Butene is a by-product of the process to produce butadiene and raw materials of acrylic resins in the petrochemical industrial complex, and it is used mainly for fuel. Asahi Kasei, one of Japan’s leading chemical companies, developed a technology to react butene with oxygen to extract butadiene at a low cost. Butadiene is used for high-performance synthetic rubber (S-SBR: Solution Styrene-Butadiene Rubber) for low rolling resistance tires and acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) resins for the body of LCD TVs. Demand for butadiene will supposedly grow rapidly, but it can be produced only from naphtha at present. Japan’s domestic butadiene production was about 935,000 tons in 2011. It has been hard to extract butadiene from butene and other chemical products because of cost problem.
The company will build a mass production plant with an investment of 5-10 billion yen in 2014. Supply of butadiene is growing tight, and butadiene was a little below 4,000 dollars per ton in Asia at the end of February this year that is very close to the highest price recorded last summer. It has become a critical issue for synthetic rubber makers and synthetic resin makers alike to secure butadiene. Asahi Kasei will build its first plant in a foreign country in Singapore in 2013. It is the world’s second largest producer of high-performance synthetic rubber following JSR.