Landscape of the European Chemical Industry 2017

Landscape of the European Chemical Industry 2017




4.4 billion €

Number of companies


Direct employees


National contact

Associaçao Portuguesa das Empresas Quimicas (APEQ)

Luis Araujo

Director General


Chemical industry snapshot

A large industry of small companies

The chemical industry generates 5.4 % of  Portuguese industrial revenue, and 12% of the country’s exports. Sales in 2015 totalled €4.4 billion.


The top 65 companies, with sales above €10 million, generate €2.7 billion of sales, 66% of the total.


So, most of the 780 companies in the industry are small or micro enterprises, mostly operating in the area of the consumption products.

From bulk products to fine chemicals

Main products of larger companies include basic chemicals, fertilizers, petrochemicals, polymers and, some fibres and specialties. There is also a small but dynamic group of companies in fine chemicals with particular know-how making a significant contribution to exports.


Geographically, the chemical industry in Portugal is concentrated in hubs around Estarreja and Sines, and in the industrialised areas of Lisbon and Porto.


A refinery near the port of Porto includes a 400,000 tonne/year producing feedstocks such as benzene, toluene and ortho xylene. Benzene is used as a raw material at Estarreja: the other products are exported.


This well-integrated hub accounts for 15% of Portuguese chemical output and centres on production of Methylene Diphenyl Diisocyanate, or MDI, mainly for export.


Nitric Acid, nitrobenzene, aniline, hydrogen, carbon monoxide and chlor-alkalis, are also produced, partly for use in the production of MDI. Other plants produce PVC and urea-formaldehyde resins.


One of the main raw materials, benzene, comes from a refinery at Matosinhos, Porto, about 45 kilometres away. Ammonia is brought by rail from Lisbon (300 km), while vinyl chloride monomer (VMC) comes by pipeline (25 km) from the port of Aveiro.


This hub has good links with the main Portuguese Universities.


Chemical sales from the Lisbon area are 30% of national output, embracing fertilizers, fibres, specialties and pharmaceuticals. Their competitive edge benefits from the presence of nearby industrial customers and consumers, and good transport infrastructure: the port of Lisbon, railways and motorways. Lisbon has two universities with excellent technology departments.


Sines is a petrochemical complex 150 km south of Lisbon. Construction started in the 1970s with a 10 million tonnes refinery and an ethylene plant. Production of polyethylene, butadiene, and ethyl tert-butyl ether (ETBE) has been added, together with plants for producing PTA (terephthalic acid) and urea formaldehyde resins. Local utilities include a large coal power plant.


Sines provides about 20% of Portuguese chemical output.


The complex is served by a deep water harbour open to ships of 350,000 tonnes. In addition to the liquid and gas terminals, the harbour includes a container terminal, and a rail link.

How are we doing?


  • Well located as a gateway between Europe and –North and South America and West and North Africa. Railway links between Sines and Europe are being improved
  • Sines is well-placed to receive liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the US for European markets
  • Established know-how: good industry skills at affordable cost, supported by efficient university departments


  • Gaps in the value chain, mainly in intermediate products impair process Integration
  • Relatively high electricity costs, kept high by poor cross-border interconnectors
  • Lack of natural gas reserves. Despite good LNG import facilities, the only pipeline connects with a single supplier (Algeria), keeping prices high
  • Financing problems have dogged companies, especially SMEs, since the financial crisis

Our contribution to a competitive Europe

Manufacture of specialty chemicals for pharmaceutical manufacture has been dynamic in recent years, with strong growth in patents, production and employment. Producers benefit from know-how and skilled and affordable staff.


Production of nano-materials is developing, aided by the Iberian Nanotechnology Lab, in northern Portugal, with state-of-the-art facilities and top researchers from all over the world.


Forest products has potential: thanks to extensive pine and eucalyptus forests which underpin production of cellulose, paper and wood-based panels, as well as derivatives of their resins.