Potential Middle East demand for methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), the additive in lead-free petrol, should reach 1.8 million tonnes a year by the start of the 21st century, according to the Riyadh-based Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (Sabic).

Sabic says world MTBE demand should reach 20 million tonnes by 1995, compared with 3 million tonnes in 1985 and 6.7 million tonnes in 1990.

MTBE suppliers have been wary about investing because of uncertainties about regulations affecting lead in petrol, says Sabic. ‘But by the year 2000, when lead additives should be withdrawn from gasoline completely, the picture will be clearer and MTBE with its safe blending characteristics will come into its own.’

Sabic says that MTBE demand in Asia could rise by more than 25 per cent a year. It forecasts Asian demand reaching 3.9 million tonnes by 2000. MTBE consumption in Southeast Asian countries is forecast to rise to 400,000 tonnes a year by that time.

Jubail-based Saudi European Petrochemical Company (Ibn Zahr), a Sabic affiliate, has an annual MTBE capacity of 1.2 million tonnes. By late 1995, Saudi Petrochemicals Company (Sadaf) will open a 700,000-tonne-a- year plant in its Jubail complex (MEED 9:9:94, Cover Story).