The ICIS Phthalic anhydride reports will keep you informed and up-to-date with market movements in Asia, Europe and the US. Our network of locally-based reporters publish weekly price assessments for spot and contract, depending on the region.
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Updated to Q3 2020
Compared with Q2, supply was relatively longer during Q3, as plants shut for turnarounds in Q2 resumed production. There was, however, less China-origin export material available in the region, as the bulk of domestic production was absorbed by robust local requirements.
Demand improved in China towards the end of Q3, especially as the hot summer weather receded, making conditions more conducive for construction projects to resume. PA has heavy applications in the construction sector. Elsewhere in the region, downstream production also recovered more during the quarter, which in turn boosted consumption of PA.
Supply was abundant at the start of Q3 as inventories lengthened on depressed demand in Q2 due to pandemic-induced lockdowns. In August, a heavy maintenance schedule helped the market to rebalance. By September, the liquid PA market was mostly rebalanced on stronger demand from the downstream UPR sector. Pockets of snug supply emerged.
UPR manufacturers upped their orders of PA significantly in Q3 with some buyers ordering similar amounts to Q1 in August. September demand was stable on August’s higher numbers. PA demand recovery was surprisingly fast and well above market expectations in July-August, with September’s stability a slight disappointment.
Supply of PA continued to meet demand. US producer Koppers originally planned to perform maintenance on its PA plants but postponed it until April 2021. Maintenance on the key Illinois river – by which most feedstock OX is transported – started in July and is expected to end in late October. PA producers had stocked up for at least a year in preparation, so no disruptions were seen as a result.
Construction led the economic recovery in the US, as people facing an indefinite period of staying home took on remodelling and home improvement projects. This sustained demand into paints and coatings in particular, although levels remained below normal. Demand into automotive production lagged, however, amid high unemployment and reduced consumer spending on durable goods.
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Over half the production of phthalic anhydride is used in the manufacture of phthalate esters, employed as plasticisers in PVC. Other major uses are in polyester resins and (decreasingly) in alkyd resins.
Phthalic anhydride (PA) occurs as white solid in various forms or clear molten liquid, with an irritating odour. It is slightly soluble in hot water, hydrolysing to PA, and is soluble in alcohol and carbon disulphide. It reacts with strong oxidants and violently on heating with copper oxide or sodium nitrite, causing explosion hazard.
The major outlet for PA, accounting for just over half of production, is in the manufacture of phthalate plasticisers, the main product being dioctyl phthalate (DOP) which is used as a plasticiser in polyvinyl chloride (PVC).
The second largest outlet is in unsaturated polyester resins (UPR) which are usually blended with glass fibres to produce fibreglass-reinforced plastics. Principal markets are construction, marine and transportation.
The third largest outlet is PA-based alkyd resins, which are used in solvent-based coatings for architectural, machinery, furniture and fixture applications.
Small volume uses for PA include the manufacture of dyes and pigments, detergents, herbicides and insecticides, fire retardants, saccharin and polyester resin cross-linking agents.