Product profile: Polycarbonate

24 June 2002 00:00  [Source: ICB]

Polycarbonate's (PC) main use is in glazing and sheet form. Other major and high growth uses are in optical discs (CDs and DVDs) and automotive headlamps. It is also used in optical applications, portable tool housings, safety helmets, industrial equipment, housing components, computers, electrical and automotive applications and in aircraft and missile components.

PC is naturally transparent and has high strength, toughness, heat resistance and excellent dimensional and colour stability. It is available in different grades and can be extruded and injection moulded. PC can be blended with other polymers to form a cheaper, high impact material used in computer housings/keyboards and car bumpers. Automotive glazing remains a key development target.


Consumption in Europe and the US, which together account for 50% of world demand, plummeted by 10% and 20% respectively in 2001, dragging down global consumption by 7%. Volumes were down into all the key end-uses (automotive, construction, optical media), but the downturn was particularly deep in the electronic/information technology sector.

Demand was still poor in the beginning of this year, but producers say there are now signs that demand is gradually improving. One supplier said May was an excellent month for sales and June looks to be similar.

A glut of new capacity started up in 2001 and more additions due onstream by end 2002 will worsen an already oversupplied market, keeping operating rates down. GE Plastics' 130 000 tonne/year expansion at Cartagena, Spain, will complete this year, doubling the sites capacity, but will only start up when the market improves. It is also adding 75 000 tonne/year at Burkville, US, in 2002. Additional production is also due this year in Thailand and Taiwan.


Second quarter contract prices in Europe rolled over with general purpose moulding grades remaining at E2.70-3.00/kg FD. A small hike of E0.25/kg was achieved on extrusion grades taking levels to E2.55-2.80/kg FD. Suppliers are expected to seek a price increase for quarter three contracts. Spot business has been thin at prices of E2.50-2.70/kg FD NWE.


PC is made by reacting bisphenol-A (BPA) with phosgene. Polymerisation takes place in an aqueous or non-aqueous solution. Safety and cost considerations have forced producers to seek routes which avoid phosgene and several companies (GE Plastics, Bayer, Asahi Chemical) now use a phosgene-free route which uses diphenyl carbonate (DPC)as the carbonylation agent.

Mitsubishi Gas Chemical/Mitsubishi Chemical are developing a new route which avoids using solvents, generally methyl chloride. Teijin-Bayer Polytec has developed a new resin, ST-3000, not based on BPA, which has a completely different chemical structure to normal PC. It plans to produce 5000 tonne/year at Matsuyama, Japan by 2005.

Health and safety

PC resin is fairly innocuous. Although fine particles can be inhaled and retained in the lungs, studies indicate they pose no measurable hazard. Vapours and fumes from melt processing may irritate the nose, throat and eyes and molten material causes severe burns. Dust generated during grinding can pose an explosion hazard. PC is inherently resistant to combustion, but produces opaque black smoke when burned.


Future demand growth is put at 8-10%/year. The strongest growth, at 15%/year, will continue to be in Asia, while Europe and North America will both see growth of 8%/year.

Optical media will be the fastest growing end use at 9-12%/year with demand of 400 000 tonne in 2000 doubling by 2005. The global sheet market will see growth average 8%/year to 2006 and demand from water bottles will rise from 70 000 tonne in 2001 to 100 000 tonne in 2006. Electronic uses will grow at 5-6%/year.

Supply will continue to outpace demand for some time. Demand is tipped to rise from 1.9m tonne in 2001 to 3m tonne in 2006 by which time capacity will reach 3.3m tonne/ year. Between 2003-06, 1.5m tonne/year of new capacity will start up. Plant utilisation rates are forecast at 80-85% in 2003-04, reaching 90-95% in 2006.

Company Location Capacity
Tainan, Taiwan 50*
Bayer Antwerp, Belgium 200
Krefeld, Germany 150
Baytown, Texas, US 200
Map Ta Phut, Thailand 50*
Dow Chemical Stade, Germany 125
Freeport, Texas, US 80
Formosa/Idemitsu Mailiao, Taiwan 50**
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

Yeochon, South Korea 65****
Mitsubishi Engineering Plastics Kashima, Japan 30
Kurosaki, Japan 40
Osaka, Japan 20
Polycarbonatos do Brazil Camacari, Brazil 20
SamYang Chonju, South Korea 50
Sumitomo Dow Niihama, Japan 50
Teijin Chemicals Matsuyama, Japan 120
Teijin Polycarbonate Singapore Pulau Sakra, Singapore 130
Thai Polycarbonate Map Ta Phut, Thailand 605

* to start up Q2 2002  ** due onstream Q1 2003 ***expansion to 130 000 tonne/year planned for 2004  ****expansion to 140 000 tonne/year due Q3 2002

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