US chemical profile: ABS

30 May 2011 00:00  [Source: ICB]

Acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) is the largest-volume engineering thermoplastic resin. ABS exhibits a wide range of properties, which makes it useful in diverse applications. Electronics is a growing outlet, while the automotive sector is also an important market. Other applications include domestic appliances, construction and recreational goods.

Supply issues include a recent force majeure declared by INEOS ABS at its plant in Addyston, Ohio, as a result of problems obtaining feedstock styrene monomer (SM). Flooding in the region has caused difficulty in obtaining SM supply, according to one customer.

INEOS's 190,000 tonne/year facility is near the Ohio river, where recent flooding has caused locks to close, making it impossible for barges containing SM to make their way upriver. As a result, INEOS declared the force majeure on May 12, according to the customer.

River conditions have since been improving and are now beginning to allow some barges to move toward the plant, sources reported. However, it is still anticipated that ABS deliveries will be allocated in June and return to normal in July.

Demand remained healthy in the North American automotive and consumer appliance markets, while the construction sector was described as stagnant to soft.

Domestic prices for ABS in the US were unchanged for the week ended May 20, following a 4 cent/lb ($88/tonne, €63/tonne) hike early in the month, as assessed by ICIS.

Further price increase announcements include: SABIC - 9 cents/lb, effective May 31; INEOS ABS - 5-9 cents/lb, effective June 1; and Styron - 10 cents/lb, effective June 1.

ABS was patented in 1948 and introduced commercially by US-based BorgWarner in 1954. The three main polymerization processes used are the emulsion process, suspension process and continuous mass process.

The continuous mass process is considered the preferred route because the reaction does not take place in an aqueous phase. This means less effluent for disposal and lower energy requirements.

The emulsion polymerization process, which was commonly used in plants built before the mid-1980s, provides more flexibility in its product range than the mass process. The batch emulsion is used in the production of high impact grades.

A hybrid emulsion/mass process has also been developed that permits the production of a wide range of ABS products.

Advances in technology, Germany-based BASF claims, have led to improved efficiencies and output. South Korea's LG Chem claims to have developed a new high productivity route and Italy-based EniChem has ­invested in a new flexible process.

Most markets for ABS are mature, but it continues to find new applications. The market has evolved into two main sectors: a general purpose sector, where cost and productivity are the most important factors, and an engineering plastics sector, which currently generates most of the industry's growth. It is in the latter sector that producers are trying to ­differentiate themselves.

Global demand for ABS is estimated by industry observers to have grown at around 10-15% in 2010. CMAI predicts global ABS demand will increase by 6%/year through 2014.

Meanwhile, US exports of ABS copolymer fell by 17.5% year on year, according to the International Trade Commission (ITC). Exports were said to be hampered by dropping ABS prices in Asia during the month of March.

US exports in March 2011 totaled 8,601 tonnes, down from 10,421 tonnes in March 2010. Month on month, exports of ABS were up from 7,986 in February 2011, an increase of 7.7%.

In comparison, US ABS imports dropped year on year by 1% to 12,106 tonnes in March 2011 from 12,228 tonnes in March 2010. However, on a month-on-month basis, US ABS imports increased 8% from 11,213 tonnes in February 2011.

By: Feliza Mirasol
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