Despite continuous capacity expansion including coal-based projects, China still imports more than half of its ethylene consumption and more than a quarter of polymer resins.
China produced 17 million tons of ethylene and 69.5 million tons of synthetic resins in 2014, up respectively by 7.6 percent and 10.3 percent year-over-year, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) said in a Feb. 27 report.
A total of 800,000 tons of ethylene capacity went on stream in 2014, and another 1 million tons of capacity is under construction.
Nevertheless, ethylene import rose 2.6 percent to 18.6 million tons, and resin imports increased 2.9 percent to 32.2 million tons.
Imported ethylene now makes up 51 percent of China's consumption, MIIT said, and 28 percent of polymer resins processed in China are from overseas.
While China relies on imports for higher-end synthetic resins, its own domestic producers face sluggish demand growth for low-end and general grades, leading to a 16.5 percent drop of profit and a thin margin of merely 3 percent.
Capacity of coal-derived olefins jumped 78.3 percent to 4.5 million tons, including the projects based on imported methanol. Actual production grew at a more modest level of 31.4 percent to 2.4 million tons.
MIIT said it will draft regulatory policies this year to better guide the coal-based olefins and chemicals industry for more orderly and steadier growth.
In addition to ethylene, MIIT also plans to focus on MDI and PX capacity.
Interestingly, the ministry said it would also guide large firms to build coal-based capacity outside of China.
In the domestic market, it plans to grow demand from downstream industries, such as increasing the use of PVC and polyurethanes in “green buildings.”