Product profile: Acrylic acid

16 September 2002 00:00  [Source: ICB]

Adverse market conditions have led to some industry streamlining and world markets are starting to gain a more balanced position. More restructuring is expected

Acrylic acid's major derivative is acrylic esters, which account for 55% of global demand. Crude (unrefined) acrylic acid is used captively and almost exclusively to make acrylates (the most important being butyl, methyl, ethyl and 2-ethylhexyl), and other derivatives used in the paint, paper, textile, adhesives, speciality coatings and ink industries. Glacial (distilled) acrylic acid is used in superabsorbent polymers (SAP), which account for about 32% of world demand, and detergent polymers. Smaller volumes are consumed in polyacrylates used as thickeners, dispersants and rheology controllers.


World capacity has grown by about 400 000 tonne/year in the last three years to reach 3.4m tonne/year in 2002, noted Tecnon OrbiChem. Poor market conditions in the past two years have prompted some restructuring and previous overcapacity, particularly in Asia and the US, is dispersing. BASF shut a 75 000 tonne/year line in Freeport, US, in July 2001 and projects have been delayed and scaled back. Celanese is also looking for a partner for its business. American Acryl's new unit came online in July and Eastman Sokolov's 10 000 tonne/year expansion is due to complete in quarter four.

The European market is now fairly balanced following tight supply earlier this year due to production problems at several plants, propylene feedstock shortages, and an increase in overall demand. The market slowed in August, which allowed stocks to recover but demand this month is said to be picking up again. Imports from Asia are very reduced this year because of poor European prices.


Prices for European third quarter contracts lifted to E1075-1155/tonne FD NWE from quarter two's range of E980-1060/tonne. September spot business is heard done at E20-30/tonne above the contract range. Margins are very poor and way behind reinvestment economics. Producers say they will seek a further price increase in quarter four.


Most production is based on the gas phase oxidation of propylene via acrolein, which produces acrolein, acrylic acid, acetaldehyde and carbon oxides. The reaction can be carried out in single or two-step processes, but the latter is favoured because of higher yields. 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. BP and Nippon Kayaku combined technologies last year and appointed Lurgi as exclusive licensing agent. BP's technology share was also put up for sale last year, but it says no major progress has been made and it is currently considering its options.

Health and safety

Acrylic acid is a clear liquid with an acrid odour. It is soluble in water, alcohols, esters and many organic solvents. It is volatile and flammable and vapours can flow along surfaces to a distant ignition source and flash back while vapour-air mixtures are explosive above flashpoint. It is generally supplied with an inhibitor as it polymerises readily in the presence of oxygen.


Players put global demand growth at 5%/year, although Tecnon OrbiChem's forecast is lower at 3.5%/year for 2003-09. Demand into bulk acrylates will grow at 3.6%/year while SAP demand growth is rated at about 5%/year.

World capacity is predicted to rise to 4m tonne/year by 2009 and several projects are proposed worldwide, although some are now delayed. BASF now plans an 80000 tonne/ year unit in Brazil to start up in 2006. Startup of StoHaas' 100000 tonne/year hike at Marl, Germany, has been pushed back one year to 2004 and Eastman Sokolov has suspended plans for an eighth line. Sasol/ Mitsubishi's 80000 tonne/year plant at Sasolburg, South Africa, is due onstream in 2003.

Major global crude acrylic acid capacity, '000 tonne/year
Company Location Capacity



Carling, France 240


Antwerp, Belgium 160
Ludwigshafen, Germany 270


B"hlen, Germany 80

Eastman Sokolov

Sokolov, Czech Republic 45


Marl, Germany 200


American Acryl*

Bayport, Texas, US 120


Freeport, Texas, US 225


Clear Lake, Texas, US 285
Veracruz, Mexico 40

Rohm and Haas

Deer Park, Texas, US** 580

Union Carbide

Taft, Louisiana, US 110


BASF Petronas

Kuantan, Malaysia 160

Beijing Eastern

Beijing, China 40

Formosa Plastics

Lin Yuan, Taiwan 60
Mailiao, Taiwan 90

Idemitsu Petrochemical

Aichi, Japan 50

Jilin Petrochemical

Jilin, China 30

LG Chemical

Yosu, South Korea 120

Mitsubishi Chemical

Yokkaichi, Japan 110

Nippon Shokubai

Himeji, Japan 235

Nisshoku TriPolyta Acrylindo

Cilegon, Indonesia 60

Shanghai Gaoqiao

Shanghai, China 30

Singapore Acrylic

Pulau Sakra, Singapore 60

Sumika Glacial Acrylic

Pulau Sakra, Singapore 25

Sumitomo Chemical

Niihama, Japan 80


Oita, Japan 60

* Atofina/NA Industries 50:50 jv

**StoHaas takes 165000 tonne/year output

Source: ECN/CNI

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