Terminal owner VTTI is to close its bitumen-producing ATPC refinery in Antwerp, Belgium, stoking concerns about supply of the road-paving product after a string of recent capacity terminations.
Trading firm Vitol, which supplies feedstocks to and markets bitumen from the refinery, said today it had been “notified by VTTI of its intention to close the refinery at ATPC”, adding that it is committed to its European bitumen business and “it anticipates no disruption to its customers and will source product from its global network”.
Vitol owns 45pc of VTTI, as does Australia-based IFM Global Infrastructure Fund. The remainder is held by Abu Dhabi’s state-owned Adnoc.
No timetable has yet been indicated for the plant’s closure, nor have the reasons for the move.
ATPC has capacity to produce around 875,000 t/yr of bitumen, although output was anywhere between 400,000-600,000 t/yr in 2018 and 2019 depending on market and other conditions.
The anticipated closure follows the permanent shutdown earlier this year of Neste, TotalEnergies and Galp bitumen-producing refineries in Europe that together accounted for as much as 900,000 t/yr of output and supply.
Vitol, a major participant in the global bitumen market, is confident of maintaining truck supply to its northwest Europe customers by stepping up imports at its Antwerp bitumen terminal in sea-going bitumen tankers.
The firm has regularly imported large bitumen cargoes at Antwerp this year, on its own and on time-chartered bitumen tankers in the 35,000-40,000 deadweight tonne (dwt) range. The cargoes, to cover short-term glitches or planned maintenance shutdowns at the ATPC refinery, generally came from Motor Oil Hellas’ refinery and bitumen export terminal at Agio Theodori, Greece, and from Turkish firm Tupras’ Izmir refinery export terminal at Aliaga.
Vitol has also been a periodic importer into Antwerp in recent years of Tupras’ vacuum residue cargoes, as an alternative bitumen-refinery feedstock.
This came about after Vitol, speciality refiner Nynas and other European refiners were forced by the threat of US sanctions to stop buying Venezuelan crude, which has especially high and good-quality bitumen yield.