US Chemical profile: Nylon 6

28 September 2009 00:00  [Source: ICB]

Nylons, also known as polyamides, are the most common polymers used in fiber. More specifically, approximately 24% of nylon 6 is consumed in engineering resins, while the rest is used in nylon fibers.

Nylon 6 fibers are made into textile, carpet and industrial yarns. Nylon resins are used in engineering plastics, with applications in automotive, fabric, carpeting, sportswear, recreational equipment, electronics and industrial components, and films for food packaging. In the US, textiles such as sportswear, leisure wear and hosiery account for 47% of fiber applications; carpets for 30%; and industrial yarns for 23%.

Nylon 6 resins are increasingly being used as engineering plastics due to a combination of high stiffness and strength at elevated temperatures, with toughness at low temperatures. They are increasingly replacing metal in automotive applications such air intake manifolds, and their resistance to oils and greases has led to their use in engine covers, gears and bearings.

US domestic demand is still significantly down from levels typical of this period, but buying interest is stronger than the levels seen one year ago, according to global market intelligence service ICIS pricing.

There is no anticipated recovery from the recession this year, due primarily to declines in the automobile and construction markets, one major nylon producer had said. In general, market participants anticipate some recovery in those markets during the first half of 2010, but the process is expected to be gradual.

Inventories of nylon 6, to which some have turned as a substitute for nylon 6,6, were also said to be short. In addition, Netherlands-based textiles manufacturer DSM stated in its second-quarter/half-year report in August that it is mothballing a caprolacatam (capro) line at its Augusta, Georgia, US, site in an attempt to manage temporary global oversupply.

The mature nylon 6 fibers market has been in relative decline in the western world at the expense of growth in Asia. It also faces competition from nylon 6,6 and polyester. Nylon 6 fibers are expected to grow at 1%/year globally. There is a consensus that supply is tight in the North American nylon market.

Contract prices in the North American nylon market remained steady at an ­average $1.65/lb for US Gulf domestic bulk ­during the week ended September 15. However, higher prices and shortened supply of some raw materials continued to put upward pressure on resin prices, according to ICIS pricing.

In the week ended September 22, some nylon 6 and nylon 6,6 were being sold at below-market price levels, said ICIS pricing. But it was suggested by at least one buyer that those offers might be for older inventory available before pricing began strengthening in recent weeks.

Initiatives of plus 10 cents/lb ($220/tonne) from Honeywell for August 1 and from BASF for August 10 were heard to have adhered among some buyers, but posted levels remained unchanged pending further confirmation from other buyers.

Nylon 6 is made from capro in a batch process where capro, water and a molecular mass regulator, for example ethanoic acid, are poured into a reaction vessel and heated under nitrogen at 500K. An intermediate, aminocaproic acid, is produced while the process then undergoes condensation to polymerize the molecules.

One major nylon 6 producer says it is seeing a slight increase in demand for products as a result of the slowing of the economic crisis and of its customers having utilized their inventories. Another producer expects to see continued declines in global demand for capro and other commodities in 2009.

In comparison, the engineering resin sector is seeing much more buoyancy. Automotive manufacturers are trying to reduce the weight of vehicles by replacing metals with plastics, and, as a result, growth for nylon 6 engineering resins is much more robust, up to 5%/year.

US Nylon 6 capacity '000 tonnes/year
Company Location Capacity
BASF Freeport, Texas 60*
Custom Resins** Henderson, Nevada 13.5
DSM Augusta, Georgia 15
Ems-Grivory Sumter, South ­Carolina 5
Honeywell Hopewell, Virginia 100
TOTAL 193.5
SOURCE: ICIS Plants & Projects

*Total North American polyamide capacity is 280,000 tonnes/year, including both nylon 6 and bylon 6,6, according to BASF

**Owned by Polymeric Resources

Profile last published October 30, 2006

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