15 April 2002 00:00 [Source: ICB]ABS has shown consistently good growth in past years. However, 2001 was possibly the worst year for growth ever, although markets now appear to be turning the corner
Acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) is used largely in injection moulding and sheet and film applications. Its largest outlet is in the automotive industry, which accounts for 25-30% of demand, followed by the electronics equipment sector.
Other applications include domestic appliances, pipes, fittings, products used in the construction industry, and recreational goods, such as boats and mobile homes. It is also used in polymer blends, notably with polycarbonate, for injection moulding applications.
The west European ABS market was down by about 15% in 2001 according to industry estimates. This compares with growth of 5% in 2000. West European production is estimated at 580 000 tonne for 2001 with consumption at 510 000 tonne. Demand and prices fell as the economic slowdown led to a downturn in the construction and automotive sectors and plant operating rates were cut to match reduced consumption. Bayer's 100 000 tonne/ year unit in Antwerp, Belgium, ceased production at the end of June last year and its plant in Muscatine, Iowa, US, was shut in 2000. Dow Chemical's facility in Torrance, US, has been temporarily idled.
However, the market appears to have bottomed out and players say demand is improving. Sales in quarter one were reported to be above expectations and orders for April are healthy, although it is not clear yet whether this is due to pre-buying and industry restocking rather than an improvement in underlying demand. Stocks are at very low levels and the pipeline is reported to be empty. Imports from Asia are also reduced as demand and prices in the region firm. Europe imports 25-30% of its requirements, mostly from Asia.
European prices started their descent in mid-2001, reaching a floor of E1.14-1.24/kg in December/January when severe destocking and discounted prices were a key feature. Production cuts lent support to higher numbers in February and numbers edged upwards to E1.20-1.30/kg. Prices in March and early April continue to increase, driven up by rising butadiene, styrene and acrylonitrile feedstock costs. Producers are seeking increases of about E 0.20/kg in quarter two as they say margins are very poor and higher prices are needed to justify production.
Styrene polymerises readily with acrylonitrile and butadiene to form ABS resins. Three main processes are used: emulsion (the oldest and least clean), suspension (blend-ing high rubber content medium with styrene-acrylonitrile), and continuous mass polymerisation.
The continuous mass process is the preferred route because the reaction does not take place in the aqueous phase resulting in less effluent needing disposal and lower energy requirements. However, it has higher capital costs, lower conversion rates and less product flexibility.
The batch emulsion process is used to produce high impact grades. Most plants can also produce styrene-acrylonitrile (SAN) resins which can be sold separately or converted to ABS.
ABS occurs as solid pellets with a faint or no odour. It is not chemically active under recommended conditions of use but trace amounts of monomers, including acrylonitrile and styrene, which are suspected carcinogens, may be released during processing.
ABS burns slowly giving off carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides. Grinder dust is an explosion hazard. Vapours may be harmful if inhaled and dust can irritate the eyes and skin.
Dow Chemical is adding a sixth train at Terneuzen, the Netherlands, by the end of 2002. The 75 000 tonne/year line will take Dow's total European capacity up to 200 000 tonne/year. Bayer is debottlenecking at Dormagen, Germany, with an extra 25 000 tonne/year due online by the end of this year. The company also has plans for a further expansion at Tarragona, Spain, during the next three to four years. Tabriz Petrochemical's new 35 000 tonne/ year plant in Tabriz, Iran, was due onstream early this year.
Global growth is forecast at 3-5%/year, slightly lower than the 5%/year seen in the past ten years, with most of the demand growth coming from higher-end, custom-made products. European demand is expected to grow at about 2-3%/year.
|Ulsan, South Korea||200|
|Addyston, Ohio, US||200|
|Mab Ta Phut, Thailand||70|
|Hanging Rock, Ohio, US||52|
|Midland, Michigan, US||115|
|Torrance, California, US||14**|
|GE Plastics||Ottawa, Illinois, US||150|
|West Virginia, US|
* 25 000 tonne/year expansion due by end 2002**temporarily idledSource: ECN/CNI
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