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Colombia 2014 | INDUSTRY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Amaury de la Espriella Martínez, President of Propilco, on the company's contribution to Colombia's economy, the petrochemical sector, and investment in new projects.

Amaury de la Espriella Martínez
BIOGRAPHY
Amaury de la Espriella Martínez was born in Cartagena, and studied business administration at the Universidad del Norte in Barranquilla, financial management at the Netherlands Internacional Institute for Management in Maastricht, and went on to complete postgraduate studies at the Universidad de los Andes. He has previously held management positions in Organización Terpel, Promigas, and the Corporación Financiera del Norte.

Could you expand on your company's economic and social contribution?

We play an important role in the Latin American plastics industry, with significant presence in the Colombian, Peruvian, and Ecuadorean markets, with polypropylene market shares of 80%, 20% and 40%, respectively. For years, our main objective has been to build long-lasting commercial relationships with our clients. Nowadays, we have a wide spectrum of clients in different countries, such as Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico, Bolivia, and Brazil, amongst others. And through leveraging various opportunities we have been able to expand our reach to clients in Spain, Turkey, and even China. In addition to the production of polypropylene, which represents our core business, we have included the commercialization of polyethylene in our portfolio. Even though Ecopetrol has a production plant in Barrancabermeja for only one type of polyethylene, its capacity does not satisfy total domestic demand. Finally, one of our subsidiaries (COMAI) with the production of Master batches has allowed us to complement our offer of solutions. These types of products enhance resin properties in order to enjoy different benefits during the plastic transformation process. A clear example is the production of plastic bags, making them easy to open, or in the case of plastic chairs, allowing them to be colored. We complete the chain, in the sense that Ecopetrol delivers the propylene to us, we produce polypropylene, and commercialize polyethylene in addition to producing master batches.

Why is demand for resin growing so strongly, and are there any innovations that may achieve a greater harmony with the environment?

On a global scale, both polypropylene and polyethylene are resins with great levels of demand, due to their use in a wide variety of applications. Polypropylene is much more resistant, while polyethylene is more suitable for the production of delicate products, such as light plastic drinking containers. In the automotive industry, polypropylene has been preferred over different types of plastic for the fabrication of robust pieces that require high strength. Also numerous products that were previously made from wood and glass are now being substituted with polypropylene, which possesses great benefit of being recyclable. As part of its strategic vision, Propilco is developing “the closing of the plastic cycle," which consists of recycling polypropylene to create prefabricated houses. In Cartagena, we recently built six houses made from this material for our contractors. Clearly then, we can conclude that polypropylene is highly beneficial due to its resistance, while possessing the ability to be recycled.

How important is the petrochemical industry for the hydrocarbon industry in general?

By the nature of the process, propylene is a byproduct of the refining of gasoline. Since we transform propylene into a usable product for human consumption, we are adding an important value to the hydrocarbon industry. In the case of shale gas, which is booming worldwide and assuming an important role in the North American industry, it is interesting to note that a part of this gas can be used for the production of polyethylene, as ethane is a key constituent of shale gas. Another substance contained in shale gas is propane, which can be transformed into propylene, whereby the hydrocarbon industry has a highly interesting future thanks to the petrochemical industry.

In late 2012, Propilco was preparing an investment of $500 million. What were its goals, and what are the opportunities for foreign companies to become partners?

This project still remains our goal, and it is what we call a propane dehydrogenation (PDH) plant. It will allow us to convert propane into propylene and ultimately into polypropylene, with hydrogen as a by-product. Our proposition is to convert a portion of the propane produced by the shale gas industry.