Polycarbonate

29 January 2001 00:00  [Source: ICB]

Used mainly in sheet form and glazing, demand is currently outweighing supply and several new projects are planned or under wayUpdated from product profile, ECN 3 MAY 1999

Uses



Polycarbonate (PC) is naturally transparent and has high strength, toughness, heat resistance and excellent dimensional and colour stability. It is available in different grades, blends and alloys. Its main use is in sheet form and glazing. Another major and high growth use is in optical discs such as DVDs and CDs which require a high purity resin. It is also used in automotive headlamps and instrument panels. Other uses are in industrial equipment and housing components, safety and fashion eyewear, safety helmets, portable tool housings, aircraft and missile components, electric meter housings and light globes. PC can be blended with ABS to form a cheaper, high impact material used in computer housings/keyboards and car bumpers. Automotive glazing is a key development target.

Supply/demand



Three major producers, GE, Bayer and Dow, hold 75% of the global market and account for all European and US production. The Asian market is heavily fragmented with smaller plants. Global demand of 1.5m tonne/year is forecast to reach 2.6m tonne/year by 2004, assuming an overall growth rate of 12%/year. Global capacity in 1999 was rated at just under 2m tonne/year and is projected to reach 2.8m tonne/year in 2004. Supply is tight and European consumers are on allocation. Plants are running flat out as suppliers attempt to meet the extremely strong demand.

Pricing



European contract prices for general purpose moulding grades have risen continuously from about DM5.50/kg in early 1999. Producers have implemented a further increase early this year of about 40-50 pfg/kg, taking prices to between DM7.40-7.90/kg.

Technology



PC is produced by reacting bisphenol-A (BPA) with phosgene, with polymerisation in either an aqueous or non-aqueous solution. Safety and cost considerations have persuaded producers to look for alternative routes which avoid the use of phosgene. GE uses phosgene-free technology at Cartagena, and Bayer has constructed a 40 000 tonne/year phosgene-free melt process plant in Antwerp. Chimei-Asahi is planning to use Asahi's phosgene-free technology in a new plant in Taiwan. All use diphenyl carbonate as the carbonylation agent. Teijin-Bayer Polytec has developed a new PC resin, ST-3000, which is not based on BPA and which has a completely different chemical structure to normal grades.

Health and safety



PC resin is relatively innocuous. Although the fine particles can be inhaled and retained in the lungs, studies have shown that they pose no measurable hazard. PC is inherently resistant to combustion but produces opaque black smoke when burned.

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Outlook



Global growth is put at more than 10%/year, and markets are predicted to stay tight for the next three years. A world-scale plant is needed every year to keep pace with demand, and several projects are planned or already under way. Bayer plans to spend q1bn to double capacity to about 1.3m tonne/year by 2005. Total output at Uerdingen and Antwerp is set to rise to 500 000 tonne/ year. Production at Baytown and Mab Ta Phut will reach 350 000 tonne/year each, and 100 000 tonne/year is projected by end 2004 in Shanghai, China.

Next year GE is planning to start up a second 130 000 tonne/year unit at Cartagena and a 70 000 tonne/year expansion at Burkville.

Due onstream this year are Iran's 25 000 tonne/year plant; LG Dow's 130 000 tonne/year unit in Yeochon, South Korea; Sumitomo Dow's extra 10 000 tonne/year; Chimei-Asahi's first phase 50 000 tonne/year at Tainan, Taiwan; Idemitsu/Formosa's 50 000 tonne/year plant in Mailiao, Taiwan, and Teijin's 50 000 tonne/year expansion in Singapore.

Additional new capacity for 2002 and beyond is planned by Idemitsu/ Formosa, Chimei-Asahi, Teijin, Thai Polycarbonate and Mitsubishi Engineering Plastics, a Mitsubishi Chemical/ Mitsubishi Gas Chemical joint venture. Teijin-Bayer Polytec is planning to produce 5000 tonne/year of its new resin, ST-3000, at Matsuyama by 2005.

GLOBAL POLYCARBONATE CAPACITY, '000 TONNE/YEAR



Producer Location Capacity
Bayer Antwerp, Belgium 200
Uerdingen, Germany 150
Baytown, Texas, US 180
Map Ta Phut, Thailand 50
Dow Chemical Stade, Germany 105
Freeport, Texas, US 80
GE Plastics Bergen op Zoom, Netherlands 170
Cartagena, Spain 130
Burkville, Alabama, US 190
Mount Vernon, Indiana, US 245
Chiba, Japan 45
Idemitsu Petrochemical
Chiba, Japan 47
Mitsubishi Chemical Kurosaki, Japan 40
Mitsubishi Engineering Plastics
Kashima, Japan 30
Policarbonatos do Brazil
Camaari, Brazil 20
SamYang Chonju, South Korea 50
Sumitomo Dow Niihama, Japan 40
Teijin Chemicals Matsuyama, Japan 120
Teijin Polycarbonate Singapore
Pulau Sakra, Singapore 80
Thai Polycarbonate Map Ta Phut, Thailand 60


There are some small plants in China and eastern EuropeSource: ECN/CMR





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