Petcoke Market

Global Industry Analysis (2017 – 2020) – Growth Trends and Market Forecast (2021 – 2025)


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A Wide Application Base in Energy, and Industrial Landscapes Fosters Petcoke Consumption

Petroleum coke is a solid, black, porous, high-carbon by-product of the oil (light/heavy crudes) refining process, especially from heavy crudes. In its raw form, it is also called green coke, or green petroleum coke. As refineries worldwide seek to operate more efficiently, and extract more gasoline, and other high-value fuels from each barrel of crude oil, a solid carbon material known as petcoke is produced. Physically, petcoke can be hard, or relatively soft, ranging from the size a grain of sand to that of a large marble. Chemically, petcoke can include a variety of elements, and metals in a wide range of concentrations. Depending on these physical, and chemical characteristics, petcoke is typically used either in an energy application as a source of British Thermal Units (BTUs), or in an industrial application as a source of carbon. Petroleum coke has been used as a substitute for portions of the coal feed. Petcoke can take two forms, viz. green, and calcined. While the former is typically used as a fuel, the latter is an important industrial commodity that links the oil, and the metallurgical industries. Petroleum coke is chemically inert, does not react chemically in water, does not dissolve in water, is not bioavailable (organisms cannot absorb it), and does not bio accumulate (does not concentrate harmful substances) in organisms.

Fuel Grade Petcoke Sought-after

Of a majority of petcoke manufactured globally, approximately 75-80% is of a much lower grade, containing higher levels of sulphur, and heavy metals, and is exclusively used as fuel. Fuel grade petcoke typically has a high heating value (BTUs per pound), produces virtually no ash when burned. Its high sulphur, and metals/mercury content makes it acceptable in the making of carbon anodes, thereby justifying its less expensive costs than coke used for carbon anodes, or graphite electrodes. Fuel grade coke is high in heat content, typically >14,000 Btu/lb, and low in ash content, typically <1% by weight ash, as compared to coals. However, high vanadium, and nickel concentrations are the less desirable characteristics of this boiler fuel.

Industrial Applications of Petcoke Sustain High Adoption

Petroleum coke is a valuable, and essential commercial product that is directly used in a wide range of applications, including aluminium manufacturing (calcined petcoke is necessary to make anodes for smelting), as fuels, for electricity generation, and in cement kilns. Other prominent areas of application include steel (needle coke is used to produce the electrodes used in electric arc furnace (EAF) steel production), brick, glass (significantly lower ash content compared to other fuels), paint, coatings, and colourings. Petcoke is widely consumed for the production of titanium dioxide (TiO2), a mineral that is used as a substitute for lead in paint, and also as a pigment in sunscreens, high-impact plastics, automobiles, fertilizers, and food colouring. Calcined petcoke plays an important role in paper, and pulp production. The TiO2 that is produced from calcined petcoke is also used as a mineral for paper whitening. Innovations in bitumen extraction have allowed petcoke production to shoot up in recent years. North America’s production of petcoke especially has been steadily increasing since the late 80s.

Environmental Implications Continue to Question Sustainability of Petcoke

Petcoke is an extremely stable fuel, meaning there is little risk of combustion during transportation. However, its high carbon content on combustion up to 10% more CO2 per unit of energy than normal coal is a matter of concern. This makes petcoke a huge contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. It also has the implications on the local environment during storage.

The US Environment Protection Agency has mandated the rules for petcoke storage.

  • Storage, and handling facilities are or can be required to obtain approval of Fugitive Dust Control Plans. These plans are mandated either through the Clean Air Act or state law
  • Subject to the Clean Water Act, and are often required to obtain industrial storm water permits, and submit a Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan
  • The International Fire Code requires facilities to obtain operational permits. Obtaining combustible dust permits which must adhere to National Fire Protection Association standards

Despite the environmental concerns associated with the manufacturing and use of petcoke, it remains a popular choice on the back of its cost effectiveness in terms of manufacturing, transport, and export. Moreover, it provides an attractive source of cheap fuel for developing nations. As long as this win-win relationship between importers, and exporters continues, the production slowdown is unlikely any time soon.

US Remains World's Biggest Supplier of Heavy Oil Refining By-product

The US oil refineries that are unable to sell a dirty fuel waste product at home (contains more planet-warming carbon and far more heart- and lung-damaging sulphur - a key reason few American companies use it) are exporting vast quantities of it to other countries instead. As per Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC), in 2019, trade in petcoke represented 0.12% of the total world trade, and the world's 179th most traded product, with a total trade of $20.9B. However, between 2018 and 2019, the exports decreased by 8.45%, from $22.9B to $20.9B. In 2019, the top exporters included the US, South Korea, Canada, China, and the UK, whereas, the top importers, as per World Integrated Trade Solution (WITS), were China, India, EU, Japan, Turkey, Mexico, and Brazil. The industry lobbying body, American Coke and Coal Chemicals Institute (ACCCI) has been vital in advancing the industry interests.

Prominent Petcoke Producers in Global Market

Some of the key players in the global petcoke market are ABC Coke, Bathco, Bluestone Coke, British Petroleum, Chevron, ConocoPhillips Company, DTE Energy Services, Essar, ExxonMobil, Gateway Energy & Coke Company, Haverhill Coke Company, India Carbon Limited, Indiana Harbor Coke Company, Jewell Coke Company, Lukoil, Middletown Coke Co., New Chien Te Hang Co., PBF Energy, Oxbow, Phillips 66, Rain Industries, Reliance, Repsol, Shell Tesoro, and Valero.

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