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Braskem sees higher costs from Alagoas salt mine damage

Braskem to restart Brazilian chlor-alkali, EDC plants in Q4

Highlights

Closures left Braskem dependent on imports

Costs related to salt mining fallout contribute to Q2 loss

Houston — Brazilian petrochemical producer Braskem expects to restart a chlor-alkali plant shut since May 2019 in the fourth quarter of 2020, the company said.

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That resumption of operations will allow the company to restart a downstream ethylene dichloride plant that was also shut in May 2019. Braskem revealed its startup plans in an earnings release late Aug. 5.

Braskem shut the plants after the release of a government report that linked its upstream salt mining operation to geological damage in Maceio, the capital city of the state of Alagoas.

Braskem shut the salt mine, as well as a chlor-alkali facility and the EDC plant. Salt is a key chlor-alkali feedstock, and subsequent chlorine production feeds EDC, a precursor to construction staple PVC.

In January, Braskem reached a deal with state and federal prosecutors and public defenders on the permanent closure of the salt mine and relocation of about 17,000 people. In exchange, the prosecutors and public defenders agreed to release about Real 3.7 billion to implement a compensation and relocation support program, and another Real 1 billion for costs to close certain wells associated with the salt mining operation.

In the second quarter of 2020, Braskem reported a net loss of Real 2.47 billion ($467.9 million), compared with a profit of Real 84 million ($15.9 million) in the year-ago period. The loss largely stemmed from Alagoas-related costs, the company said.

The Maceio chlor-alkali plant can produce 400,000 mt/year of chlorine and 460,000 mt/year of caustic soda, a byproduct of chlorine production and a key feedstock for the alumina and pulp and paper industries. The plant shutdowns left Braskem dependent on imports of caustic soda for supplying customers and EDC to maintain downstream PVC output.

US EDC, caustic soda exports to Brazil up sharply in first half 2020

The latest export data from the US International Trade Commission released Aug. 6 showed US EDC exports to Brazil more than doubled in the first six months of of 2020 to 213,148 mt from 95,445 mt in the first half of 2019. Overall US EDC exports reached 755,536 mt in the first half of 2020, up more than 17% year on year.

Brazil also is the top US export market for caustic soda. The ITC data showed caustic soda exports to Brazil rose 22.5% year on year to 1.4 million mt in H1 2020, reflecting Braskem's increased demand.

However, overall US caustic soda exports fell 12% year on year in H1 to 2.79 million mt as buyers sought cheaper imports from other regions, such as Europe and Asia, after a supply-driven spike pushed US prices higher than its global competitors, according to market sources.

Latin American markets typically receive caustic soda imports largely from the US because the proximity limits freight costs, but flows to markets other than Brazil declined in the first half of 2020 as demand fell amid widespread coronavirus pandemic-related shutdowns and buyers turned to cheaper material elsewhere.

Flows to Mexico fell 23% to 166,267 mt, the data showed. Honduras received 12,451 mt, a decrease of 37% year on year; and Chile received 175,388 mt, down nearly 4% on the year.

Major alumina markets also took less, reflecting lower industrial demand. Flows to Australia fell 34% to 415,608 mt, while flows to Jamaica fell 50.7% to 137,680 mt, reflecting the September 2019 closure of the 1.6 million mt/year JISCO Alpart alumina refinery for a lengthy upgrade.