Globally, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a sharp reduction in demand for refined fuels with refineries suspending operations through April. With the easing of lockdown restrictions, demand is slowly returning; plants in the USA and Europe restarted towards the end of May and into early-June.
Fluid catalytic cracking (FCC) units containing rare earths (mainly lanthanum) are used to enhance the oil distillation process to produce larger volumes of light fuels during refining. Weaker demand during COVID-19 will have led to a reduction in FCC consumption, however, the decline in the FCC market is expected to be mitigated somewhat by new regulations.
The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) imposed a new regulation as of 1 January 2020, stating that the limit for sulphur in fuel oil used onboard ships operating outside designated emission control areas must be reduced to 0.50% m/m (mass by mass). From a refining perspective, the existing high-sulphur fuel volume will need to be replaced by various low sulphur blends which will, in turn, increase the amount of catalyst consumption needed to meet market acceptance. As a result, FCC unit consumption is expected to see an upside in demand to produce the fuels required for light-sulphur blends.
Roskill has just published the second update to its Rare Earths: Outlook to 2029, 19th Edition report, outlining changes in supply, demand, trade and prices for 15 elements and providing an updated price forecast. For more information or to subscribe, click here.