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Fertiliser, power firms drive up naphtha usage as prices fall

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Fertiliser users have already started switching to naphtha, while power sector players, having gas stations with dual firing, are also moving to the cheaper feedstock.

Richa Mishra
Anil Sasi

New Delhi, Dec. 14 After being out in the cold, naphtha again seems to be back in the reckoning as a viable feedstock for players in the power and fertiliser sectors.

With sharp decline in its prices, producers feel that the product is poised for significant growth in the coming months.

This is despite the fact that the petrochemical sector, where naphtha is normally used as a feedstock, is going through a downswing.

A litre of naphtha currently costs Rs 20 (down more than half from its peak). In the international market, too, naphtha prices have almost come down to spot prices of liquefied natural gas (LNG) — between $7 and $7.5 per million British thermal unit.

Prompting the switch

At Rs 34 a litre (Chennai prices), diesel is almost Rs 14 higher than current naphtha prices.

Fertiliser users have already started switching to naphtha, while power sector players, having gas stations with dual firing, are also moving to the cheaper feedstock.

The cost of naphtha has dropped to its lowest since February 2007 and the rupee has fallen by over 15 per cent against the dollar since August, prompting users to switch to the domestically produced liquid fuel than imported LNG.

Naphtha consumption saw a growth of 2.3 per cent (0.79 million tonnes) in November as against the same month last year. The cumulative growth for April-November has been 0.7 per cent (5.8 mt). As opposed to this, LNG sales in November have seen a decline of almost 15 per cent to 0.6 mt (0.7 mt).

In 2007-08, naphtha sales had come down by nearly 15 per cent to 8.8 mt, largely replaced by LNG, the consumption of which grew by 28.9 per cent.

Diesel, which has significant usage in the transport sector, saw a growth of 8.8 per cent year-on-year in November at 4.5 mt and a cumulative growth (April-November) of 10.7 per cent.

“Naphtha is certainly more affordable now, so we are increasing the usage of liquid fuel in our dual-fired power plants. Our naphtha-based Kayamkulam plant (in Kerala) is now being run at over 90 per cent plant load factor, compared to 60-70 per cent earlier,” an NTPC official said. Besides, NTPC’s Kawas, Gandhar and Anta have the dual-fuel option and can be run on naphtha.

Fluctuating trends

While naphtha may have become cheaper, power units, especially smaller ones, are still cautious in investing in naphtha infrastructure.

This is mainly because of the fluctuations in naphtha price trends and also the need for investment in separate storage facilities for storing the product.

According to industry sources, the urea production units of fertiliser companies such as Southern Petrochemical Industries Corporation Ltd and Fertilisers and Chemicals Travancore Ltd, which were closed mainly on account of viability issues pertaining to the high cost of naphtha, could be up for revival measures.

Related Stories:
Gujarat industry substituting LNG with naphtha
‘Duty on naphtha will hit Haldia Petro bottomline’
ONGC declares force majeure on naphtha

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated December 15, 2008)
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