There is no analogue of such high-quality MTBE on the Kazakhstan market.
One of such enterprises is the plant of Shymkent Chemical Company LLP specializing in the production of methyl tret-butyl ether (MTBE), an octane-increasing additive for 4 EUR and 5 EUR standards gasoline production. Its production capacity is 57 thousand tons of finished products per year.
Manat Bibasov, General Director of Shymkent Chemical Company LLP, spoke in an exclusive interview for DBK Talk about the company's future plans, production features, project financing and cooperation with the country's leading development institution – the Development Bank of Kazakhstan.
MTBE became very popular in most industrial countries in 1987. And after the mass environmental movements in the early 90's, it became mandatory in some Western countries. Until now, there was only one such plant in Kazakhstan and its capacity was only 20 thousand MTBE per year. Your plant in Kazakhstan is the second one. Could you tell us what was the prerequisite for its launch?
The project is implemented in accordance with the orders of the President of Kazakhstan on the development of petrochemical industry with high added value and corresponds to the program for modernization of the existing capacities of oil refineries of Kazakhstan. The project is included in the Industrialization Map under the state program of industrial and innovative development of the Republic of Kazakhstan.
Shymkent Chemical Company LLP is a project company and a member of the Holding Group of Companies "ALMEX". In 2016, "ALMEX" Group decided to participate in a project for the production of octane-enhancing additives - methyl tret-butyl ether. It was decided to locate the project on the territory of Ontustik Special Economic Zone in Shymkent near PetroKazakhstan Oil Products LLP (PKOP), as the key feedstock for the project was to come from the catalytic cracking unit built as part of the modernization of PKOP refinery.
This made possible the implementation of the Project as a result of the completion of the modernization of the Shymkent refinery, which allows us to produce significant volumes of the rich butane-butylene fraction C4, which is the main raw material for the production of our ether.
Tell us more about the production process, how complicated is it?
The plant produces methyl tret-butyl ether - MTBE, which is an octane-increasing additive for 4 EUR and 5 EUR gasoline production.
The basis of the technological process is an exothermic reaction of methanol with isobutylene using a catalyst - ion-exchange resin. Isobutylene reacts at certain temperature and pressure, to ensure which a wide range of equipment - pumps, columns, reactors, heat exchangers is used in the technological process.
And, to maintain the production process, the operating staff needs to make the right decisions and actions accordingly, despite the fact that the process is fully automated. On this basis, we can say that the production process is complex.
What technologies are used at the plant and why?
The project was implemented under the License Agreement for etherification technology of the French company Axens, which provided the Basic Project and supplied the key process equipment (Catacoltm catalyst baskets). This technology has proven itself as reliable and as flexible as possible. For example, the technology provides for water washing to remove harmful impurities that can harm the catalyst, not to mention a wide range of MTBE production capacity adjustment.
Do you import raw materials from abroad or do you use domestic raw materials? What is the share of local content?
We mainly use two types of raw materials for production - butane-butylene fraction C4 and methanol. Butane-butylene fraction is supplied to us by PKOP LLP, but methanol has to be purchased due to lack of production in Kazakhstan. Therefore, the share of local content in the product exceeds 60%.
The initial goal of the plant was to cover the demand on the domestic market. Are you able to do that now?
At the moment, our production is included in the list of industrial consumers of liquefied petroleum gas for the production of petrochemicals. We can state that the needs of Shymkent Refinery are fully met in accordance with the production program of the refinery, as our plant has reached its full capacity.
Do you plan to expand and step into foreign markets in the next few years?
As there is a high capacity of the domestic market of auto-gasoline and domestic need to increase the octane number of motor fuel, the entire production volume will be sold for the needs of leading refineries of Kazakhstan, first of all, Shymkent refinery PKOP LLP. But, if there is a surplus, the refinery has all the necessary technological equipment for storage and shipment of products for export.
In the future, the ALMEX group is planning to implement the second stage of our project - construction of polypropylene production plant. It is expected that the products of the second plant will be in demand in the domestic market, it is also planned to export polypropylene to the markets of near and far abroad.
What is the competitive advantage of the product produced by your company?
Previously, there was only one MTBE plant on the Kazakhstan market with a capacity of 20 thousand tons per year. Compared to this plant, our capacity is almost three times higher. We also have licensed technology from a company that has proven itself in the global market of oil and gas chemical products, which already speaks for the quality of our products.
Our products are fully compliant with regulatory requirements for quality and safety. Today we produce products with more than 99% purity. There is no analogue of such high quality MTBE on the Kazakhstan market.
How many employees are now working at the plant? Are there any foreign workers at the plant?
During the project implementation we involved Licensor's specialists at the stages of installation of specialized technological equipment, catalyst loading and commissioning works. At the moment there are 115 employees, and no foreign employees at the plant.
How do you assess the qualifications of employees, is there a shortage of staff?
From the very beginning of the project, the company has developed a professional team that can solve problems and help when difficulties of various kinds arise.
The shortage of personnel is really felt in specialized areas such as instrumentation, power supply and process control. We are responsible in personnel selection and first of all we pay attention to the experience in petrochemical industry and work with fire-explosive production. There is a shortage of highly qualified personnel according to the above criteria.
This is the age of automation and information technology, tell us, do you use automation systems of production management?
Since the MTBE production process is a continuous, fire-explosive process, it is fully automated. Consequently, the process control system fully meets all requirements and the emergency automatic protection component even has a higher SIL3 level than the SIL2 standard. Basically, the human role in the technological process is reduced to maintaining the stability and continuity of production, of course, when the technological mode and the emergency situation change, the role of the operating personnel increases dramatically, as they have to make the right decisions and act accordingly.
Has the pandemic affected production start-up?
The coronavirus pandemic had a significant impact on the EPC contractor's deadlines for fulfilling its obligations to build the plant. Due to the fact that most of the equipment was imported, and the suppliers had to supervise the installation and commissioning in the presence of representatives of the licensor, the company together with the contractor carried out a lot of work at the Interdepartmental Commission on preventing the spread of coronavirus infection in Kazakhstan to coordinate the arrival of representatives of the licensor and suppliers to the construction site.
During the quarantine period, measures were taken to limit the movement of construction workers away from the construction site, control and monitoring of PCR tests were ensured, sanitary measures to prevent infection were organized. After the vaccine was available and voluntary vaccination began, we worked with the EPC contractor to vaccinate employees and organized a permanent medical station. By the date of commissioning all employees are vaccinated, health status is being monitored.
Why did you choose the Development Bank of Kazakhstan to finance the project? Did you consider other sources of financing?
As a supporter of the state policy on support of strategically important industrial projects, the Development Bank has recommended itself as a reliable partner in terms of providing investment loan financing on attractive terms.
It is also worth noting the high professionalism and responsibility of the Bank's team involved in the support of our Project, willingness to promptly consider and resolve issues, as well as to advise clients in the organization of loan financing.