Product profile: Bisphenol A

14 April 2003 00:00  [Source: ICB]

 
Demand for BPA has picked up in Q1, mainly driven by strong PC consumption. High growth rates for PC in Asia continue to spur new capacity in the region
Uses

Bisphenol A's (BPA) main outlet is in the production of polycarbonate (PC), which accounts for about 65% of consumption. The second largest outlet is epoxy resins, which accounts for roughly 30% of consumption. Other uses include flame retardants (mainly tetrabromobisphenol A), unsaturated polyester resins and polyacrylate, polyetherimide and polysulphone resins.

Supply/demand

Supply in Europe is balanced to tight, with some suppliers requiring large volumes for captive use. Demand is reasonably good and consumption into PC has improved since early 2003. However, the epoxy resins sector remains under pressure because of weak prices, although demand is said to be relatively good and improving.

Europe continues to export BPA to Asia, where markets and prices are stronger. Planned and unplanned outages have tightened the Asian market and more turnarounds are due in quarter two (Q2). In addition, demand into PC is strong. But historical export volumes could be under threat as Asia has hosted a wave of new capacity recently, with more to come.

Pricing

Contracts in Europe largely rolled over in quarter one (Q1) from quarter four in the range E1040-1140/tonne FD, as suppliers faced big resistance to price hikes from buyers. Attempts were made to raise prices on a monthly basis in January and February, and sellers are now seeking a E100-150/tonne increase for Q2 contracts. Producers say they are achieving an average E60-100/tonne rise, with the largest increases on the lowest priced accounts lifting the minimum price to about E1140/tonne FD. Suppliers are determined to recover lost margins as raw material costs went up in Q1 and are still rising in Q2.

Technology

BPA is produced by the condensation of phenol and acetone in the presence of an acid catalyst (hydrogen chloride) and usually a promoter such as methyl mercaptan. Cationic ion exchange resins can replace the acid catalyst in newer plants. After the reaction and recovery of acid and phenol, the BPA is washed with water, neutralised with milk of lime and distilled under vacuum.

Newer processes employ distillation and extractive crystallisation under pressure to purify the BPA. Two grades are produced: one for epoxy resin production and a higher purity grade for PC manufacture.

Health and safety

BPA is a crystalline, prilled or flake material with a slightly phenolic odour. It is a slight fire hazard, but the dust can form explosive mixtures with air. Dust, vapour and solutions can irritate the eyes, lungs and skin. There is continuing debate on BPA's potential endocrine disrupting properties, but studies on low-dose effects have been inconclusive.

Outlook

Forecast growth rates have been adjusted down because of the global economic downturn. World demand growth for BPA is put at 6-10%/year, depending on the region. PC is still the fastest growing use for BPA. Asia is the strongest growth region.

In Europe and the US, demand growth for BPA will be mainly driven by new applications for PC, including the replacement of various automotive parts, CDs and DVDs. In Asia, new PC capacity continues to be built and, with Asian companies deciding to enter the phenol chain as well, several BPA plants are also planned. Many are slated for China, with others in Taiwan and South Korea.

However, sources say many companies are reluctant to invest in new BPA production next to PC plants. They say there is sufficient BPA capacity until at least 2006 and producers are looking to utilise existing assets fully. Also, current economics do not justify the capital investment required.

Global bisphenol A capacity, '000 tonne/year
Europe

Bayer

Antwerp, Belgium 140
Krefeld, Germany 160

Dow Chemical

Stade, Germany 100

GE Plastics

Bergen op Zoom,
Netherlands 110
Cartagena, Spain 210

Novokuibyshevsk Petrochemical

Novokuibyshevsk, Russia 20

Resolution Performance Products

Pernis, Netherlands 140

US

Bayer

Baytown, Texas 160

Dow Chemical

Freeport, Texas 190

GE Plastics

Burkville, Alabama 75
Mount Vernon, Indiana 265

Resolution Performance Products

Deer Park, Texas 130

Sunoco Chemicals

Haverhill, Ohio 110

Asia

Chang Chun Petrochemical

Miao-Li, Taiwan 20

Idemitsu Petrochemical

Ichihara, Japan 70

Kesar Petroproducts

Lote Parshuram, India 7.5

Kumho P&B Chemicals

Yosu, South Korea 135

Mitsubishi Chemical

Kashima, Japan 100
Kurosaki, Japan 100

Mitsui Bisphenol Singapore

Pulau Sakra, Singapore 210

Mitsui Chemicals

Nagoya, Japan 80
Takaishi, Japan 60

Nan Ya Plastics

Mailiao, Taiwan 190

Nippon Steel Chemical

Kita-Kyushu, Japan 95

Taiwan Prosperity Chemical

Lin Yuan, Taiwan 25

Wuxi Resin

Wuxi, China 12
Source: ECN/CNI




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