Economy, Business And Markets

Catalyst Producers Shine

Business & Markets Desk
Catalyst Producers Shine
Catalyst Producers Shine

While many domestic industries are suffering from low investment and shortage of equipment and new technologies, some Iranian sectors host small private companies manufacturing products or providing services that have the capacity to compete in global markets. One of these sectors is industrial catalyst manufacturing.

In fact, five main Iranian private producers manufacture 51 types of catalysts, completely engineered in Iran. The Second International Catalyst Conference held on November 24, in Rayzan International Conference Center in uptown Tehran, showcased their capacities to foreign investors and industry players and laid the groundwork for companies that would want to partner with Iranian manufacturers.

Sarv Group, Iran’s largest producer that makes nine catalysts, hosted the event.

Catalysts help break down crude oil to petroleum and petrochemical products. They are central to making methanol—as an alternative to petroleum-based fuels—and ammonia, which are used in fertilizers and also as a building block for the synthesis of many pharmaceuticals. Catalytic convertors help reduce car emissions. Catalysts are even used in the processing of vegetable oils and steel.

Iranian companies consume 22,500 tons of various catalysts each year. Due to the large size of Iran’s petroleum and petrochemical industries, most of the demand comes from these sectors. Private companies produce 19,600 tons each year, covering most of the demand.

Industrial catalysts are high-tech research-intensive products.

If a company’s catalyst is not continually improved, another company can make progress in research on that particular catalyst and gain market share. That’s why the five—Sarv Oil and Gas, Pars Pigment and Catalyst, Gahar Seram, Nano Pars Spadana and Pishgaman Catalyst Pars—have 11 new catalysts in the preproduction pipeline such as RFCC catalysts—which Sarv unveiled in the conference.

And it’s not like they are focusing on one type of catalyst. The companies have engineered catalysts of every major category. These include water gas shift reaction, both high and low temperature shift, steam reforming, methanol decomposition and many others.

Also, Iran Delco makes automotive catalytic convertors. Another producer, Exir, specializes in precious metal processing catalysts.

  Years in the Making

Industrial catalyst technology and its engineering were hard to attain. It all started with Ali Mirmohammadi, secretary-general of the Catalyst and Absorbent Manufacturers Association of Iran, who spearheaded the process while working at the National Iranian Oil Company.

“The strategic nature of the oil industry and US sanctions on petroleum industry equipment prompted us to pursue the domestic production of oil industry’s equipment and products, including catalysts,” he said.

Iran’s oil industry has been under western sanctions for the past 35 years, which impeded Iran’s development as most of the equipment installed in the oil industry before 1979 was US-made and maintained by American expatriates.

“We started by commissioning Tehran, Shahid Beheshti universities and Sharif University of Technology to research into catalysts, their physical and chemical properties, operating conditions, in conjunction with Iranian Research Institute of Petroleum—NIOC’s main research arm—in 2000,” the former NIOC executive said in the conference.

Then private companies were contracted to produce the catalysts.

In 2007, the first preproduction samples were made. Iran had gained a foothold in catalyst manufacturing technology.

During this time, the manufacturers were supported by NIOC that borne part of the technical and financial burden of the manufacturing process. The companies’ samples were tested by the IRIP for free, lowering research costs.

More importantly, to ensure a continuous cash stream at the start of production and assure the manufacturers of their sales, NIOC bought five years worth of its refineries’ need for catalysts. It also paid half the order’s value in advance, in a departure from the government adage of falling behind on payments.

The road to development was plagued by government bureaucracy, management changes in the NIOC’s subsidiaries and rejection of Iranian equipment by some of them. But it was ultimately overcome.

  The End of The Beginning

This is, however, just the end of the beginning. Catalyst consumption is rising.

“Demand from refineries will double in the next few years,” Saeed Mahjoubi, production manager of National Iranian Oil Refining and Distribution Company, said.

The lifting of sanctions against petroleum industry will increase the usage of refineries and petrochemical companies.

Also exports, which already make up part of the catalyst producer’s sales will be facilitated. Growth in demand will come from Middle East and the Far East as they expand refining capacity, while Europe and US consumption will remain around current levels.

The companies are continuing their research and looking for partners that can add to their technological prowess, as they race to keep up or overtake competitors. Today, and in the future, this can be vital for the chemical industry.

  China’s Interests

Beijing Energy Engineering Technologies’ chairman and KaiRui Environmental Protection Technologies’ chief executive, Rezel Catalysts’ representative, all from China, presented their companies’ technology in the conference.

“I am astonished by the level of the conference and the executives present. In China a conference on catalysts is usually filled with young students and researchers,” Shi Luin, BEET’s chairman, said.

China plans to adopt Euro-5 gasoline by next year and the same standard for diesel fuel by 2017. The plans will increase China’s catalyst consumption.

“BEET is using its technology to help make less polluting fuel,” said the chairman.

“China is moving towards a new normal, especially in the quality of goods. We want to assist Iranian companies in adopting new technology and in the manufacturing process.”

Gong Dongcang of Kairui, a catalyst maker specialized in catalysts that make petroleum-based fuel octane boosting products, said, “We are looking to cooperate with our Iranian counterparts in our field. We can offer our expertise and technology.”

A representative of Germany’s Basf also attended the conference.