Chemistry is one of the engines driving Cepsa’s internationalization and the activity through which the company is growing the most. At its chemical plants, crude is transformed into raw materials for other industries with endless applications: high-performance materials, biodegradable detergents, paints, electronic components, pharmaceutical products…
In our daily cleaning routine, the clothes we wear, our office desk, in our downtime when going to the movies… Cepsa is a leading manufacturer of chemical products transformed into raw materials used for the production of personal care products, cleaning products, high-performance materials, mobile telephony, synthetic fibers, etc.
Chemistry is one of the company’s least-known business areas and, nevertheless, it has great international projection in this area: Cepsa is the world leading producer of LAB (Linear alkylbenzene), the raw material used to produce biodegradable detergents; a global leader in cumene production; second in phenol, a raw material to make high-performance materials; and acetone, the main component in methacrylate production. Moreover, it has a preferential position in the raw materials market for solvent production in Spain, the United Kingdom, and Italy.
2019: a Successful Year
Cepsa’s chemical business recorded a net profit of €125 million in H1 2019, in line with the same period of the previous year. Product sales amounted to 1,436 kt and investments in this business unit stood at €27 million.
The key to this success is the full integration with other business areas such as refining, which gives way to synergies and a great deal of flexibility in production. Similarly, the innovative development in this sector puts it at the lead of the chemical industry. An example of this is the Detal technology – created by Cepsa and Universal Oil Products (UOP) in the 1990s – the most advanced and efficient in LAB fabrication that has been implemented in 85% of the chemical plants that make this material since its creation.
The leading molecule in surfactants: LAB
Cepsa is a leader in LAB production (with 15% of the global market share). Linear alkylbenzene is the precursor of linear alkylbenzene sulphonate (LAS), the widest used biodegradable surfactant in laundry detergents in all formats (liquid, powder, tablets, etc.).
In accordance with its positioning, the company had an outstanding presence in CESIO 2019, the world’s largest congress for surfactant manufacturers, held in Munich in June. There, Cepsa had the opportunity to publicly present its technological upgrade and expansion project for the Puente Mayorga Chemical Plant (San Roque, Cadiz) to make it the first Linear alkylbenzene factory to replace a technology based on hydrofluoric acid (HF) with Detal, a more advanced, efficient, and sustainable process.
The Puente Mayorga Plant will incorporate the latest version of this process – Detal Flex 2 Phenyl –, which will enable to improve the quality of the product, increase the plant’s efficiency, reduce its emissions, and attain all types of LAB commercial grades with complete flexibility within the same facility, according to the demand.
The project, which entailed an investment of €100 million, also contemplates expanding its production capacity by 25%, enabling the company to reach 600,000 t/year worldwide as well as renovate its power plants.
Puente Mayorga Plant: the Origin of Innovation
According to Jose Manuel Martínez, Cepsa Chemistry Manager, “the Puente Mayorga Chemical Plant is the source of our knowledge in the surfactant market, which we have applied to the rest of our facilities all over the world. Thanks to this project, we will renew the factory and strengthen its competitiveness in the market. The facility’s enhanced production will be mainly earmarked for the African markets, which have high growth potential: We expect LAB demand to grow by 5% in these countries by 2035.”
This investment is part of Cepsa’s 2030 strategy to maintain and strengthen its current leadership in the chemical area.
Greater force in the Atlantic Basin
Meanwhile, Salvador García Claros, Manager of Innovation and Chemical Development believes that “revamping will enable us to consolidate our position as global leaders in LAB production and strengthen our number one position at the Atlantic basin, our natural market, which strategic focus are Spain, Africa, and America, and where we have first-level facilities.”
With the long-term goal of maintaining its leadership in LAB production, Cepsa will continue to invest in the American continent, where it supplies 55% of the LAB consumed in Latin America and 30% of the product consumed in North America.
The company is continuously growing its chemical business and has industrial plants in Germany, Brazil (Camaçari), and Canada (Bécancour), leaders in LAB production, as well as China, Spain, and Indonesia. Furthermore, due to its outstanding international presence, it was granted the Export award from the Business Federation of the Spanish Chemical Industry (Feique).
Cepsa is also a global leader in cumene production, with 1,360,000 t/year and second producer of phenol and acetone, cumene by-products, with 1,370,000 t/year. From its chemical plants in Shanghai (China) and Palos de la Frontera (Huelva), where it is also planning to implement technological innovations and renovation projects, it produces raw materials with endless applications in our day to day lives.
The main application of phenol is polycarbonate, a material mainly used in the automobile, industrial design, and architecture sectors, with an emphasis on the fabrication of everyday elements like car dashboards, insulators protective helmets, wind turbines, etc.
Other co-products of phenol production include acetone, an excellent solvent for natural and synthetic oils, resins, rubbers, paint, varnishes, and ink. However, the most common application for acetone is the fabrication of methyl methacrylate (MMA), used for signs, urns, furniture, screens, etc.
Committing to Sustainability
Cepsa is also reaffirming its clear commitment to sustainability through its chemical area, in line with its commitment to contributing to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), specifically number 13, regarding climate action.
A proof of this is that in 2017 it launched a new business line focused on producing plant-based alcohols to make personal care, cosmetics, and cleaning products, among others.
Furthermore, Cepsa has the Environmental Product Declaration for its LAB and LABSA products made at its plants in Spain (San Roque, Cadiz) and Canada (Bécancour), and for the paraffin waxes made at the Gibraltar-San Roque Refinery, making it the world’s first company in the oil & gas sector to get this certification, which analyses information based on the products’ life-cycle and studies and quantifies the raw materials’ carbon footprint at its different stages. With these certifications, Cepsa is showing its commitment to the development of sustainable and environmentally-friendly products, transparent processes and is ahead of possible future regulations.
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