The adoption of non-ethane feedstock in the Saudi Arabian petrochemicals sector is forcing industry stakeholders to expand into product chains previously overlooked in the country.

The increasing use of naphtha as a feedstock will produce higher amounts of butane (C4) and pygas, leading to new possibilities for downstream chemical plants, Vinit Maheshwray, vice-president of Arab Petroleum Investments Corporation (Apicorp) told MEED’s Middle East Petrochemicals 2012 conference in Dubai.

The cracking of ethane, Saudi Arabia’s principle feedstock, has led to a huge ethylene capacity in the kingdom, but using naphtha will benefit potential butadiene, isobutylene, toluene, xylenes and benzene production.

New crackers in Saudi Arabia will increasingly use alternatives to ethane, as readily available supplies of the gas feedstock have already been allotted to existing producers.

Maheshwray explained that the PetroRabigh II project has been allocated 3 million tonnes a year of naphtha.

As it takes 3.3 tonnes of naphtha to produce one tonne of ethylene, there are about 2.3 tonnes of co-products for every tonne of ethylene that could potentially be used for producing C4 and aromatics.

Speakers at the conference were in agreement that the projected ethane shortage in Saudi and wider GCC petrochemicals sector would lead the use of heavier feedstock, as well as the expansion downstream into higher-value speciality chemicals.