Product Profile: TDI

21 June 2004 00:01  [Source: ICB]

Dreadful prices and oversupply plague the sector. A shift in furniture production is driving growth in eastern Europe

Toluene diisocyanate’s (TDI) main use, with about 90% of world demand, is in flexible polyurethane foam for furniture, buildings and transportation. Other uses include rigid foams and adhesives, paints, concrete sealers, as a cross-linking agent for nylon 6, and as an intermediate in polyurethane coatings and elastomers. The main form is an 80:20 mix of the 2,4 and 2,6 isomers.


Demand in western Europe has been fairly stable this year and east European markets have been performing well. Markets in the Middle East are also recovering. The European market saw small growth last year, mainly driven by growing consumption in eastern Europe as furniture production continues to shift into the region.

European production has been reduced over the last two years as a result of plant outages and closures. Lyondell’s revamped unit in France has suffered continual problems since new technology was installed in 2002. Dow Chemical’s plant in Italy was out for several months after an explosion in November 2002. Bayer stopped production at Leverkusen, Germany, at the end of last year, and its joint venture with Shell in Antwerp, Belgium, closed in mid-2003. Its joint ventures in Mexico and Japan have also ceased.


European producers say prices are a disaster. They are at their lowest level for ten years and are 25% below their peak of €2200/tonne. After sliding continuously since early 2003, levels have now been stable for the last four months and are quoted in the range €1600-1700/tonne. Suppliers are pushing for hikes of €100/tonne for new business but there is little evidence that the increases are being accepted.


The main commercial route is by the dinitration of toluene to dinitrotoluene followed by catalytic hydrogenation to diaminotoluene, either as the 2,4- or 2,6-isomer or a mixture of the two. The diaminotoluene is dissolved in an inert solvent and reacted with phosgene to produce a crude TDI solution.

TDI can be produced directly from dinitrotoluene by liquid phase carbonylation with o-dichlorobenzene. This route avoids the use of phosgene and waste recovery problems associated with hydrogen chloride. One-step processes based on the reaction between dinitrotoluene and carbon monoxide have been developed but not commercialised.

Health and safety

TDI is a white to pale yellow liquid or crystals with a pungent odour. It reacts with water and organic compounds containing active hydrogen groups and is incompatible with strong oxidants. It is a severe skin and eye irritant.


Global demand growth is put at 3.5-4%/year. Demand in western Europe will grow at around 2%/year, while east European growth will be much higher, possibly at 10%/year or more. Growth in Asia, where China accounts for 75% of TDI consumption, is put at about 8%/year.

Recent over-investment has put the world market into oversupply and the sector’s speed in absorbing the excess capacity hinges on China’s fortunes. Further rationalisation is possible while profitability remains so poor. Players believe there is still some potential left in the US, and Asia is also a logical candidate but any moves there are considered highly unlikely.

Major new projects are planned by BASF and Bayer in China. Work has started on BASF’s joint venture complex in Shanghai with startup due in late 2006. Bayer’s 160 000 tonne/year TDI unit in Caojing is slated to start production in 2009.

Major global TDI capacity, ’000 tonne/year

Company Location Capacity


BASF Schwarzheide, Germany 70
Bayer Brunsbüttel, Germany 125
Dormagen, Germany 65
Borsodchem Kazincbarcika, Hungary 60
Dow Chemical Porto Marghera, Italy 110
Lyondell Pont de Claix, France 125
Zaklady Chemiczne Zachem Bydgoszcz, Poland 30
BASF Geismar, Louisiana, US 160
Bayer Baytown, Texas, US 180
New Martinsville, West Virginia, US 50
Dow Chemical Freeport, Texas, US 105
Isopol Produtos Quimicos Camaçari, Brazil 60
Lyondell Lake Charles, Louisiana, US 136
Petroquimica Rio Tercero Rio Tercero, Argentina 28
Rubicon Geismar, Louisiana, US 35
BASF Yosu, South Korea 140
China National Blue Star Taiyuan, China 30
DC Chemical Kunsan, South Korea 45
Gansu Yinguang TDI Co Baiyin, China 20
Hebei Cangzhou Dahua Cangzhou, China 30
Korea Fine Chemical Yosu, South Korea 66
Mitsui Takeda Chemicals Kashima, Japan 115
Omuta, Japan 128
Nan Ya Plastics Mailiao, Taiwan 30
Narmada Chematur Petrochemicals Bharuch, India 10
Nippon Polyurethane Industry Nanyo, Japan 25
Shanghai Wusong Chemical General Shanghai, China 40
Source: ECN/CNI

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