Mumbai: Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), which aims to become a debt-free company by March 2021, may start spending heavily again to upgrade its chemicals business once it repays its ₹1.54 trillion of outstanding debt, two people aware of the talks said.
“The required capex is part of RIL’s oil-to-chemicals strategy to transform the Jamnagar refinery, which would take the company from primarily being a producer of fuels to chemicals for higher margins," one of the two people said, requesting anonymity.
The new capex plan in the works indicates that RIL chairman Mukesh Ambani is unlikely to pause for long after a seven-year investment spree that culminated in unit Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd gaining the leadership position in India’s telecom market, upending the established order.
RIL did not reply to an email seeking comment till the time of going to press.
Upgrading its petrochemical facilities will help RIL produce higher margin products from crude oil and prepare for a future when fuel demand will diminish because of the popularity of electric vehicles.
In August, RIL said it planned to sell a 20% stake to Saudi Arabia’s Aramco in its refining and petrochemicals business for $15 billion as part of a plan to pare its massive debt. According to the terms of the deal, Saudi Aramco will also supply 500,000 barrels per day of crude oil to RIL’s twin refineries in Jamnagar.
RIL has developed a multi-zone catalytic cracking process that converts a wide range of feedstock to high-value propylene and ethylene. The company plans to eliminate all refined products that are priced below crude for chemicals at the initial stage. However, the final fuel configuration will see the elimination of petrol and diesel to facilitate RIL’s plan to move into electric mobility as transport fuel demand declines.
Petrochemicals accounted for 44% of RIL’s operating profit in the June quarter, up from 40% in the year earlier.
“RIL has provided a road map of over 70% conversion of crude refined to high-value petrochemicals in phases over 10 years. We believe RIL will need to raise petchem capacity by 20mt towards this," Gagan Dixit, an analyst at Elara Capital, said in a 26 August note.
“If capex required is $800 million per tonne, similar to the recent expansion, then capex would be ₹1,120 billion," Dixit added in the note.