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IEA says refining sector to transform by 2040, Asia to dominate

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Singapore — The traditional order of the global refining industry will be toppled by 2040 with both China and the Middle East overtaking Europe, the International Energy Agency said Wednesday in its long-term energy outlook.

Some 15 million b/d of new capacity will come online between 2018 and 2040, primarily in developing economies in Asia and the Middle East, according to a forecast from IEA's latest World Energy Outlook 2019.

China and the Middle East will see their refining capacity increase by 3.5 million b/d and 3.4 million b/d, respectively, solidifying Asia's dominance as the heart of global oil demand.

Refining capacity will rise to 110.70 million b/d in 2040 from last year's level of 100.40 million b/d.

The combined share of developing Asia and the Middle East in global refinery runs will increase from 37% currently to 48% in 2040, the report noted.

However, refining capacity in Europe will fall sharply in 2040 to 14.5 million b/d from 16.2 million b/d in 2018, with 5.3 million b/d of its refining capacity at risk in 2040, the largest for any region.

"Saudi Arabia is trying to extract more value from its oil by pursuing refining and petrochemical investment opportunities in Asia," the report added. "Other countries are integrating petrochemical facilities with refining capacities to adapt to changing demand patterns."


Looking ahead, however, remaining competitive will be the long-term challenge for refiners. Refineries will see their market share of liquids demand decline from 86% today to 83% in 2040.

The amount of new refining capacity coming online in 2019 is set to be the largest since 2010. The IEA said this would create even greater competition in the future "as demand growth slows after 2025" with biofuels and NGLs making a growing contribution to liquids demand.

The surge in US tight oil production, almost all of which is light and sweet, will have a profound impact on the refinery industry.

But the IEA believes that global refineries will steadily adapt to the additional supply of light crudes to meet the steady shift in global oil demand towards lighter products.

Global oil demand is increasingly shifting towards lighter and sweeter products as a result of rising demand for petrochemicals and the need to meet tightening sulfur specifications," the report said.

"US tight oil yields higher volumes of these types of products and so is well positioned to help meet this changing demand pattern."

The International Marine Organization's 0.5% sulfur cap, which comes into effect from January 1 2020, will be the most "immediate challenge" facing the refining industry.

Diesel demand will see a surge due to this clean fuels policy and some refiners have started investing in more secondary units like residue cracking or desulfurization units.

They "are also adjusting configurations to increase the yield of diesel at the expense of gasoline, and introducing a new low sulfur fuel by blending gasoil and high sulfur fuel oil," the report added.


Underpinning the refining sector will be the increase in oil products demand. Total oil products demand -- which averaged 95.10 million b/d in 2018 -- will reach 104.40 million b/d in 2030 before plateauing to 104.80 million b/d by 2040.

The biggest growth will come from petrochemical feedstocks such as ethane, LPG and naphtha and jet fuel. These products will account for over 90% of the net increase in total oil product demand through 2040, according to IEA'S WEO 2019.

This contrasts greatly with the trend since 2000, "when gasoline and diesel provided two-thirds of the growth" in oil products.

Gasoline and diesel will remain "very important in developing economies, however, with their combined demand growing by nearly 40% between 2018 and 2040," the IEA added.

Gasoline demand will peak globally in the late-2020s and will fall from 24.60 million b/d in 2018 to 23.40 million b/d in 2040, according to the IEA forecast.

-- Eklavya Gupte,

-- Edited by Kshitiz Goliya,