Acrylic acid

07 June 1999 00:00  [Source: ICB]

Overcapacity in Asia has done little to dampen growing world demand for acrylic acid, fuelled by the growth of superabsorbant polymers

Supply/demand balance

World annual capacity of crude acrylic acid is approximately 2.9m tonne with demand set at slightly less than that. Demand for acrylic acid has grown at 7%/year in the first half of the 1990s but has dropped to an annual growth rate of just below 5% during the second half of the decade. Problems facing acrylic acid producers are the squeeze on profit margins because of the increase in raw material prices and pressure on prices because of overcapacity in Asia. Capacity has been added there in recent months with the opening of the 60 000 tonne/year Singapore Acrylic plant in Singapore (the joint venture with Sumitomo Chemical and Nippon Shokubai) in Q1 1999.



Crude acrylic acid is used to produce glacial acrylic acid and acrylic esters. Glacial acrylic goes into monomers for the production of superabsorbent polymers (SAPs) and products like detergents and polymer dispersions. SAPs account for a quarter of the world acrylic acid market and have had growth rates of 9%/year in the last five years. Acrylic acid is also used in the production of commodity esters, which include methyl, ethyl, n-butyl and 2-ethylhexyl acrylate. The largest volume ester is butyl acrylate followed by ethyl acrylate.


Although acrylic acid has been produced by the reaction of acetylene, carbon monoxide and water or alcohol, modern plants are based on a two-step propylene oxidation process via acrolein. The oxidation of propylene produces acrolein, acrylic acid, acetaldehyde and carbon oxides. Acrylic acid from the primary oxidation can be recovered while the acrolein is fed to a second step to make acrylic acid. Purification can be carried out by azeotropic distillation.

Health & safety

Acrylic acid is a clear liquid with a sharp odour that is corrosive and reactive. Vapours may irritate the eyes, nose and throat and even very small exposure can cause a rash.


The Asian acrylic acid market was set to go into oversupply even before the Asian crisis hit and regional capacity of 900 000 tonne/year is now outstripping domestic demand - estimated to be around 650 000 tonne/year. With the oversupply has come the substantial drop in prices, plummeting 20-25% in the last year (see graph). Asian imports into the US and Europe have increased by 50% in the last two years which has put pressure on pricing. However, prices are on the way up again, mirroring the increase in feedstock prices over recent months. There has also been a slight increase in Q2 contract prices in Europe and there are signs that prices may increase in Asia too. European producers are expecting a second half hike in the US.


World demand for acrylic acid remains strong with the US, South America and Europe pushing expected demand growth rates to between 4-6% in the next few years absorbing the overcapacity in Asia. The strong growth of superabsorbent polymers at 5% is the main reason for this. Heavier ester application such as coatings and adhesives are also continuing to perform well and are predicted to grow 3-4% in the next two years.

Recent moves to help tighten the global market include Rohm & Haas' postponement of its 100 000 tonne/year Antwerp, Belgium, acrylic acid plant until at least 2003 and the Elf Atochem/Nippon Shokubai joint venture American Acryls' decision to delay its 120 000 tonne/year plant in Bayport, Texas, in the US until second half 2001. BASF-Yangzi's planned venture in China has also been delayed until at least 2003.


Company Location Capacity


BASF Antwerp, Belgium 160

Chemicke Sokolov, Czech Rep 45

Zavody Sokolov

Elf Atochem Carling, France 240

BASF Ludwgsfn, Germany 270

Stockhausen Marl, Germany 90

Dow Celanese Böhlen, Germany1 80

Ciba Bradford, UK 15

Total 820


Celanese Vera Cruz, Mexico 40

BASF Freeport, Texas, US 300

Celanese Clear Lake, Texas, US 280

Rohm & Haas Deer Park, Texas, US 465

UCC Taft, Louisiana, US 109

American Acryl Bayport, Texas, US 120

Total2 1194


Nippon Himeji, Japan 220


Mitsubishi Yokkaichi, Japan 110


Sumitomo Niihama, Japan 80


Toagosei Oita, Japan 60

Idemitsu Chiba, Japan 50


LG Chemical Naju, South Korea 60

Formosa Mailiao, Taiwan 90

Plastics Corp

Beijing Eastern Beijing, China 40

Shanghai Shanghai, China 30


Jilin Chemical Jilin, China 27


BASF Yangzi Nanjing, China3 160


BASF Petronas Gebeng, Malaysia4 160

Singapore Pulau Sakra, Singapore 60


Nisshoku West Java, Indonesia 60

TriPolyta Acrylindo

Total 900

1 end 1999; 2 H2 2001; 3 2003; 4 2000

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