InterviewGlobal EVA growth could vary by 300,000 tonnes over 5 years

29 June 2012 08:51  [Source: ICIS news]

By John Richardson

PERTH (ICIS)--Global ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) demand growth could vary by as much as 300,000 tonnes over the next five years as a result of great uncertainty over demand from the downstream solar-panel industry, said a chemicals and plastics industry consultant.

EVA is used to make sheets of plastic “encapsulant” that surround and protect silicon cells in solar panels.

“The European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA), in its lower-case scenario, estimates that there will be 39 gigawatts of solar-panel production globally by 2016, up from 24 gigawatts manufactured in 2011,” said Stephen Moore, a Singapore-based Associate at Townsend Solutions.

“This assumes lessening support from government policies through feed-in tariffs etc, and a worsening of the economic problems in Europe.

“Under this worst-case scenario this would result in the requirement for roughly an additional 110,000 tonnes of solar grade High EVA (HEVA) compared with 2011,” he said.

HEVA is resin containing more than 28% vinyl acetate (VA) content, which is needed to manufacture encapsulant sheets.

HEVA is also used in hot melt adhesives, carpet backings, coatings, and polymer modifications, among other applications.

“But in the industry’s association’s best-case scenario, it sees solar-panel production growing to 78 gigawatts, a huge difference, meaning that the demand for solar grade HEVA would grow by almost 400,000 tonnes,” he added.

Global demand for all grades of EVA would grow to more than 4m tonnes by 2016 under the worst-case scenario, with the best-case outcome resulting in 4.3m tonnes of consumption, said Moore

Townsend Solutions market data for EVA demand includes very low VA content EVA (less than 7%), which is used widely in commodity films in the US and Europe.

“Roughly 55% of all the world’s solar panels were made in China in 2011. Ten years ago, there was virtually no production in China, with most of the world’s solar panels instead made in the US, Europe and Japan,” Moore said.

“HEVA is supplied to China from companies such as the joint venture, Mitsui-DuPont in Japan, The Polyolefin Co (TPC) in Singapore and USI Fareast in Taiwan.”

Another main end-use for EVA is in sports or training-shoe manufacturing. Foams to make training shoes are typically produced from Low EVA (LEVA) resin, which contains 7-17% VA.

“The pattern of demand growth in sports shoes is changing,” said Moore.

“It used to be that in the West, just about every teenager wanted to own more than one pair of sports shoes. Now they are content with just one pair, and instead are asking for iPads, iPhones etc for birthdays and Christmas.

“But in emerging markets, as people become wealthier, parents can afford to buy their children pairs of sports shoes for the first time. Demand growth in the industry is therefore migrating from West to East.”

EVA is produced on autoclave or tubular EVA/low-density polyethylene (LDPE) plants, continued Moore.

“Although these plants do not employ catalysts, they are more expensive to build and growth in the much larger LDPE market has lagged behind that of resins such as linear-low density PE (LLDPE),” he said.

As a result, very little LDPE capacity has been added globally over the last 10 years, leading to tight supply of both EVA and LDPE.

Producers can quickly switch between making either EVA or LDPE, depending on pricing and margins.

But not all plants are configured to swing between EVA and LDPE production; many are dedicated to only manufacturing LDPE. 

Further, although the tubular process is easier to operate, it is only suitable for making grades of EVA up to 28% VA content.

EVA/LDPE demand totalled 20m tonnes/year in 2011, of which about 17% was EVA, added Moore.

“Global EVA capacity, including all grades, will increase by about 1.8m tonnes/year over the next five years,” he said. 

“So whether we get 600,000 tonnes of incremental EVA demand growth over the next five years, or 900,000 tonnes, will have a marked effect on plant operating rates.

“If the EVA demand is not there, producers will have to consider producing more LDPE, which costs the same to manufacture but sells for a lower margin.”

Read John Richardson and Malini Hariharan’s blog – Asian Chemical Connections

By: John Richardson
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