Production capacity in the GCC petrochemicals sector more than doubled between 2005 and 2013, and represents about 3.3 per cent of the region’s total GDP, according to the latest report by the Gulf Petrochemicals and Chemicals Association (GPCA)

The six-country bloc had production capacity of 140.5 million tonnes a year (t/y) across the chemicals value chain in 2013, compared with 69.3 million t/y in 2005. This was largely driven by major increases in Saudi Arabia – the region’s largest producer.

“While Saudi Arabia continues to be the leading player in the region, other GCC countries rapidly expand their production as well,” said the GPCA. “Over the past decade the chemical output has doubled in Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE.”

Chemicals production in Saudi Arabia has increased at an average of 9.7 per cent a year for the past decade reaching 91.5 million t/y in 2013.

The GCC exported 66.1 million tonnes of chemicals in 2013. Asia is by far the biggest destination for chemicals exported from the GCC with 39.5 million tonnes, or 59.7 per cent, of exports heading to Asian customers in 2013. Twelve per cent of exports were shipped to Western Europe with smaller amounts transported to Africa and other desinations.

The cornerstone of growth in the GCC’s petrochemicals industry is the building of large-scale steam crackers to produce ethylene and propylene, and process these basic chemicals into polymers.

GCC polymer production has increased four-fold in the past decade, with 90 per cent of the polymer capacity additions coming from polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP).

PP and the various forms of PP dominate the region’s polymers production capacity, with smaller amounts of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polyvinyl chloride (PVC) polystyrene (PS), polycarbonate and other derivatives produced.

“As part of the diversification strategy, new polymers have been launched over the past years, including polycarbonate, super-absorbent polymer and polyamide 6.6, which represents the ongoing diversification drive towards performance polymers by the GCC producers,” the association said.

The GCC has several major petrochemicals projects either under construction or in the planning stage.

The Sadara Chemicals Company – a joint venture of Saudi Aramco and US-based Dow – is building the region’s largest integrated refinery and petrochemicals complex in Jubail, Saudi Arabia. It is expected to be fully operational in 2016 with a capacity to produce more than 3 million t/y of high-performance plastics and speciality chemicals projects. Major projects are also getting under way in Oman, Qatar and Abu Dhabi.