Chemical profile: Isopropanol


02 November 2009 00:00  [Source: ICB]

Isopropanol (IPA) is mainly used as a solvent, with outlets in cosmetics and personal care products, deicers, paints and resins, pharmaceuticals, food, inks and adhesives.

Some chemical compounds are made from IPA, such as methyl isobutyl ketone (MIBK), isopropylamines and isopropyl esters. It is used to extract and purify natural products, such as vegetable and animal oil and fats. It is also used as a cleaning and drying agent in the manufacture of electronic parts and metals, and as an aerosol solvent in medical and veterinary products.

IPA is available in different grades. The normal quality of anhydrous IPA is 99%+, while special grades (essence and pharmaceutical) are 99.8%+.

Demand in Europe has been hit by the financial crisis and is said to be down by 15-20% on average in 2009, compared with 2008. But sources say IPA has been less impacted than other solvents because of its wide-ranging applications and use in the cosmetics and personal care sectors, which have been more resilient to the downturn.

Production in Europe remains reduced. The closure on October 1 of a solvents plant in Berre, France, with 110,000 tonnes/year of IPA output by Netherlands producer LyondellBasell Industries, has had little impact on the market. Players say there is enough supply from existing capacity and imports, mainly from the US, despite the closure of Anglo-Dutch major Shell's plant in Deer Park, Texas, in November 2008.

Also, the Berre closure will be offset by new capacity from French producer Novapex, which will start up a 40,000 tonne/year unit in Roussillon, southern France, on January 1, 2010.

Spot prices started climbing again in June, boosted by rising propylene feedstock costs. However, the €28/tonne fall in propylene prices in October has forced IPA prices down and they are likely to come under more pressure in November, with propylene contract prices falling again by €10/tonne.

The range in late October for technical grade was put at €840-880/tonne, although lower numbers nearer €800-820/tonne were heard too. Prices for cosmetic material were put between €960-1010/tonne.

Two routes are used to produce IPA commercially. The older method is based on the indirect hydration of refinery-grade propylene using sulfuric acid to form isopropyl sulfate, which is then hydrolyzed with steam to form sulfuric acid and IPA. The crude IPA is distilled to the desired purity.

A newer route is the direct hydration of chemical grade (90-99%) propylene, avoiding the need for sulfuric acid.

A very small amount of IPA is produced by the hydrogenation of acetone in the liquid phase. This process is only suitable where excess acetone is available.

Demand for IPA in Europe could shrink further in the next five years or so, as consumers substitute IPA (and other solvents) with greener alternatives.

Any investment in new capacity is confined to Asia, where growth is strongest. Some expect more imports from Asia in the future but most think that the region will not be a permanent supplier to Europe.

No more plant closures are anticipated, particularly in Europe, which has a small supply base.

major global isopropanolCAPACITY, '000 TONNES/year
Company Location Capacity
Carboclor Campana, Argentina 50
CNPC Jinzhou Petrochemical Jinzhou, China 100
Deepak Fertilisers and Petrochemicals Taloja, India 70
Dongying Hi-Tech Spring Chemical Industrial Dongying, China 30
Dow Chemical Texas City, Texas, US 430
ExxonMobil Chemical Baton Rouge, Louisiana, US 380
Isu Chemical Ulsan, South Korea 40
Lee Chang Yung Lin Yuan, Taiwan 110
LG Chem Yosu, South Korea 100
LyondellBasell Channelview, Texas, US 30
Mitsui Chemicals Takaishi, Japan 33
Nippon Oil Kawasaki, Japan 70
Rhodia Brasil Paulinia, Brazil 10
Sasol Herne, Gemany 85
Moers, Germany 155
Shell Bukom, Singapore 75
Pernis, Netherlands 300
Sarnia, Ontario, Canada 95
Tasco Chemical Lin Yuan, Taiwan 20
Tokuyama Tokuyama, Japan 70
Source: ICIS plants & projects

Profile last published January 29, 2007

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