The Methyl ethyl ketone (MEK) markets are covered by ICIS on a weekly basis in Asia, Europe and the US. These benchmark assessments, used widely by industry, are key to keeping you fully informed of market developments.
Prices are predominantly for the spot market, though domestic and regional quotes also appear. Our locally-based reporters give informed but unbiased commentary on market overviews, upstream and downstream movements, economic news, graphs and plant shutdowns/operating rates, when applicable.
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Methyl ethyl ketone: Market overview
Updated to Q4 2017
Asian spot availability is expected to stay tight, with most Chinese producers sold out for October. The earliest cargo available heard at the end of September was for end-November shipping. Japanese cargoes are expected to be limited as well, due to production issues. Prices are likely to be bolstered in this situation.
Demand in Asia is expected to be strong, bolstered by strong downstream demand in inks, paints and coatings. MEK demand is likely to be stronger than in Q3 because of better weather and also because end-users are preparing in anticipation for the new year. Market players expect prices to be firm due to strong demand in Q4.
There were mixed indications for European MEK in Q4. A former production problem at Shell was resolved in mid-August, which led to some decrease in MEK spot prices from their former peak in September. However, sources said that the market remains relatively tight, and prices have not fallen as steeply as other solvents affected by the force majeure. It therefore remains ambiguous whether the limited availability situation will remain in place for the next quarter.
European MEK demand is expected to fall in Q4 for seasonal reasons, although it will most likely remain higher than the previous year. MEK demand typically falls towards the end of the year due to reduced activity in downstream industries and the holiday period in December. In addition, companies will be destocking towards the end of the year for balance sheet reasons.
The supply outlook for US MEK in the last quarter suggests more material will become available in coming months because of the expected alleviation of plant issues that arose in late August and September from Hurricane Harvey. In the last week of August, Hurricane Harvey landed on the Texas coast and disrupted chemical plants and logistical systems along the coast and Texas-Louisiana border. Two US MEK suppliers put customers on tight sales allocations. Logistical issues for rail shipments have improved, but availability for trucks continues to be limited.
US MEK demand should peak before the end of 2017 and begin to settle as the US Gulf Coast moves toward equilibrium following the disruptions of Hurricane Harvey. The big move in domestic prices should be over, but a significant gap remains between US and European values, so there could be another round of hikes.
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Methyl Ethyl Ketone Methodology
About Methyl ethyl ketone
Methyl ethyl ketone (MEK) is a colourless, mobile, flammable liquid with an acetone like odour. It is soluble in ethyl alcohol, benzene, ether and acetone, and miscible with oils. It is also a fast-evaporating active solvent with an evaporation rate similar to ethyl acetate.
The main application for MEK is as a low-boiling solvent for nitrocellulose, acrylic and vinyl surface coatings. Around half of global MEK demand is derived from the paints and coatings industry. Its advantage is that low viscosity solutions can be obtained, having a high solids content, without affecting the film properties. These lacquers are used in the automotive, electrical goods and furniture industries.
MEK can also be used in rubber-based industrial cements and printing inks. Its fast evaporation rate makes it popular for rubber-based industrial cements, low-temperature bonding agents and as an azeotropic separation solvent for printing inks. It is also a component of the solvent system used in producing magnetic tape.
MEK is also a solvent required for the polymerisation processing of polystyrene, acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS), and styrene-butadiene-rubber (SBR).