A cracking deal

Process Industry

IG Petrochemicals has metamorphosed to being india’s largest manufacturer of pan and is now charting international territory.

by Jayashree Kini-Mendes

There is a tendency amongst people to judge a company by its portfolio of products. There is a general presumption that the larger the portfolio, the bigger the company. If this was actually true, then IG Petrochemicals (IGPL) would have no found no mention among market analysts who continue to track the company’s progress with keen interest.
For a company that started operations in 1992 with a capacity of 45,000 metric tonnes (MT), today IGPL is the largest manufacturer in India of phthalic anhydride (PAN), producing around 170,000MT. PAN is a chemical compound, which finds applications in flexible plastics such as cables, pipes, leather products, packaging films and the paints industry.
Located at MIDC, Taloja in Raigad district, Maharashtra, the plant has three units at a single location. The location advantage is proximity to ports and the chemical belt in western India where majority of downstream industries are located including procurement of orthoxylene, the raw material to make PAN. Nikunj Dhanuka, MD & CEO, IGPL, says, “We were careful about choosing the location as we sought significant logistics advantage (cost and time savings) in terms of sourcing raw materials and supplying to end-users.”

Blockbuster Opportunity
Petrochemical plants have one of the most complex structures. Large equipment straddle the land parcel on which the plant stands. A typical plant is impenetrable and is dotted with large and heavy equipment such as gas processors, reactors, orthoxylene heaters and filters, stripping columns, steam condensers, water heaters, separation columns, oil heaters and coolers, distillation columns, heat exchangers, among other things. The production includes four main process sections: oxidation, condensing, distillation and gas scrubbing.

The production of PAN is by the catalytic oxidation of air oxygen and orthoxylene. Production is carried out in three steps:
Oxidation: Orthoxylene and air react in the fixed bed reactor.
Condensation: Outlet gases from the reactor are cooled and crude PAN is separated.
Distillation: Crude PAN is distilled to obtain commercial grade PAN.

Taking us through the plant, G Venkat Ram Reddy, president (technical), IGPL, says, “We are one of the most cost-efficient manufacturers of PAN. We have a capacity utilisation of 95-100% and it was also the reason why we set up the third plant only last year.”

In terms of raw material, IGPL sources orthoxylene from Reliance Industries. Reddy says, “We source about 75% of raw materials from Reliance, based on an international pricing formula, and import the rest.”

In PAN production using orthoxylene as the basic feedstock, filtered air is preheated, compressed, and mixed with vaporised orthoxylene and fed into the fixed-bed tubular reactors. The reactors contain the catalyst, vanadium pentoxide, and are operated at 340-3850 Celsius. Small amounts of sulfur dioxide are added to the reactor feed to maintain catalyst activity. Exothermic heat is removed by a molten salt bath circulated around the reactor tubes and transferred to a steam generation system.

The reactor effluent containing crude PAN plus products from side reactions and excess oxygen passes to a series of switch condensers where the crude PAN cools and crystallises. The condensers are alternately cooled and then heated, allowing PAN crystals to form and then melt from the condenser tube fins. The crude liquid is transferred to a pretreatment section in which phthalic acid is dehydrated to anhydride. The by-products Maleic Anhydride (MA) and Benzoic Acid are recovered from scrubber wash water with the process of evaporation/vacuum distillation. The liquid then goes to a vacuum distillation section where pure PAN is recovered. The product is then stored and shipped as a solid (in which case it is dried, flaked, and packaged in multi-wall paper bags).

The entire process is so automated that there is little or no manpower at the plant. Most of the manpower is located at a single control room where three engineers monitor the functioning of the entire plant.

Interestingly, production is a continuous process and only halts the system when it needs to undertake maintenance work, which is once in three years, when the catalyst requires a change. Reddy says with a hint of pride, “It is well known that a European petrochem plant shuts down for 30 days to change the catalyst and undertake maintenance; we do it in 21 days. We also export about 15% of the output.”

As a company, Dhanuka has ensured that the company remains environment-friendly. At regular intervals, it has re-engineered its processes to reduce waste. For instance, it treats the waterwaste and recover few chemicals from it and sells in the market. After recovering all the chemicals, the water which is left is reused again for production. In another significant process enhancement initiative through investment in modern technologies, the captive power plant meets the entire power requirements. IGPL also uses the steam recovered from the manufacturing process to generate power for the plant. Before the third plant came up, the company even sold excess power to the state-grid, MSEB.

New Ventures
In April, IGPL acquired the 3,500 tonnes facility maleic anhydride business of Mysore Petro Chemicals for Rs 75 crore. Similarly, in 2015, the company entered into a JV with Dubai Natural Oil Company to set up 45000 tonne per annum Maleic Anhydride (MA) unit. The JV will be called ENOC-IG Petrochemicals and will be located at Jebel Ali, Dubai. The plant will be the first of its kind in the Middle East, which is currently relying on imports to meet the market demand of MA. The product will be sold in the GCC and India with a view to expand to other markets.

Such initiatives will not only help the company drive top line growth but help in higher profitability as it eyes future growth through newer markets.


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