Acrylonitrile: unexpected profitability may be time-limited

Global tightness in the acrylonitrile market is expected to persist through the second quarter as a series of scheduled maintenance shutdowns will limit export availability from all three US producers. Tightness may be a feature of the market for the rest of the year.

Buyers in Asia, Europe and elsewhere in the Americas have been paying higher and higher prices for US exports since the second half of last year, partly because the market has tightened and partly because US feedstock costs are rising.

But only a few years ago, overcapacity was meant to condemn the entire acrylonitrile industry to low prices and low profitability for the next five or ten years. Low growth in acrylic fibre production was meant to limit profitability in acrylonitrile production well past the normal investment horizon. Major producers appeared to back away from previously announced expansions: Ineos’s joint-venture project in Tianjin, China is no longer described as active and Asahi Kasei’s long-delayed joint venture in Saudi Arabia is similarly moribund.

The obvious question is: how has the market become so tight and how is it that acrylonitrile production has again become profitable?

A better question might be: will it last?

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James Mills
Business Manager – Polyamide & Acrylic Fibre Intermediates

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