Iranians love soccer, these NIOC workers play against a backdrop of gas
burn-offs in the oil fields of Ahwaz and high-tension line from the Dez Dam.
Oil and huge natural-gas reserves gave Iran a staggering one-two energy punch

Back in the seventies, Iranian experts often referred to oil as a "noble product", one that should be used as a feedstock for petrochemical production rather than burned for power generation. In keeping with this philosophy, Iran was rapidly, and successfully, endeavouring to become a major petrochemical producer.

Iran's petrochemical debut occurred in 1981, when a small fertilizer plant was commissioned near Shiraz. Wholly owned by the National Petrochemical Company (NPC), a subsidiary of the National Iranian Oil Company, the plant produced 52,000 tons of urea, 30,000; tons of ammonium nitrate, 4,000 tons of nitric acid, and 53,000 tons of soda! ash, and 10.000 tons of bicarbonate of soda a year from natural gas piped from a nearby oilfield. Two units were added to the complex in 1974 for the production of sodi urn tripolyphosphate (30,000 tons) and NPK fertilizer (50,000 tons).

But the real expansion of this complex was yet to come. A major development programme was in the process of being implemented which would make  Iran one of the largest petrochemical plants in the Middle East. By 1979 new facilities would  have been installed that would have  increased annual production capacity of urea by 500,000 tons, of nitric acid by 200,000 tons and of ammonia nitrate by 250,000 tons. There would  also have been an ammonia plant with a capacity of 400,000 tons.

The Shiraz complex, which supplied farmers all over Iran with nitrogenous fertilizer, had already done much to boost agricultural production. By the end of the decade it would played an even more .mportant role in the national economy.

Abadan Petrochemical Company was formed in 1966 as a joint venture between NPC and B.F. Goodrich of the United States, the latter having a 26 per cent shareholding. The plant, which was located in Abadan adjacent to the refinery, manufactured raw materials for the domestic plastics and detergent industries. Its annual production capacity was 60,000 tons of PVC, 12,000 tons of dodecyl benzene and 24,000 tons of liquid caustic soda.

The Shahpur Chemical Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of NPC, operated a large complex built on tidal mud flats on the edge of the Persian Gulf near the port of Bandar Shahpur.

Using sour natural gas and imported phosphate rock, the Shahpur complex had an annual capacity of 330,000 tons of amonia, 408,000 tons of sulphur, 165,000 tons of urea, 149,000 of phosphoric acid, 198,000 tons of diammonium phosphate, and 436,000 tons of sulphuric acid. With domestic demand for fertilizer rising rapidly, the Shahpur complex, like its counterpart in Shiraz, was undergoing a major expansion programme, which would have boosted the production of urea to 695,000 tons, of diammonium phosphate to 673,000 tons, sulphur to 633,000 tons. sulphuric acid to 1 ,063,000 tons and phosphoric acid to 263,500 tons.

Kharg Chemical Company  was a 50-50 joint venture between NPC and Amoco of the U.S. Its plant on Kharg Island produced some 230,000 tons of sulphur and 300,000 tons of li uefied propane and butane, using as its feedstock associated gases from onshore and offshore oilfields.

NPC's other petrochemical affiliate was Iran Carbon Company, a joint venture with the Industrial Mining and Development Bank of Iran and Cabot Corporation of the U.S. The plant in Ahvaz manufactured 15,000 tons of carbon black annually, about 95 per cent of the domestic rubber industry's current needs. Capacity is to be doubled within the next few years.

In addition to the above, severa major joint venture projects wereunder implementation. Among these was a direct NPC project for th manufacture in Abadan of 800,000 ton per year of aromatics, considered with olefins to be the "building blocks" ofthe petrochemical industry. The paraxylene, orthoxylene, cyclohexane and benzene from this plant would have been the raw materials for other projects.

Another project was a 50-50 joint venture between NPC and Japanese interests named the Iran-Nippon Petrochemical Company. The first phase completed in 1976, involved the annual production at Bandar Shahpur of 23,000 tons of phthalic anhydride and 40,000 tons of dioctyl phthalate, both used by the plastics industry.

Another even larger NPC - Japan joint venture, also based at Bandar Shahpur,  was a $2 billion grassroots project, due for completion in 1980, that will utilize associated gas and naphtha from Abadan Refinery to manufacture chlorine, caustic soda, olefins, ethylene, propylene, butadiene and aromatics. Initially some of these products would have been  been exported, but as domestic demand increased downstream manufacturing units would also have been set up.

NPC had a number of other prolects under consideration including plants for the manufacture of caprolactum dimethyl terephthalate, industrial metha no!, lubricating oil additives and enthylene glycol.

Although NPC, directly or with experienced foreign partners, was responsible for all the major petrochemical projects, private Iranian industrialists were also involved in the industry, mainly in downstream processing units. Among, the larger private sector projects were plant near Shiraz which manufactured formaldehyde moulding powder and industrial resins, and one near Isfahan which manufacture dpolyester anc acrylic fibres for the textile industry Another project planned was for the an nual projection of 30,000 tons of polystyrene and yet another, cornpleted in 1978, wich had a capacity of 16,000 tons of nylon fibre per year.

With all these petrochemical projects in operation, Iran would not only be self-sufficient in a wide range of industrial raw materials and consumer goods but would have had a healthy surplus for export, hopefully sufficient to offset, in terms of foreign exchange earnings, declining exports of crude oil. Many of these plans were wasted by the Revolution and war with Iraq.