The largest use for acetic acid is the manufacture of vinyl acetate monomer (VAM), which accounts for one-third of acetic acid consumption.
A major use for VAM is in the production of emulsions as base resins for water-based paints, adhesives, paper coatings and textile finishes. Ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) copolymers are used as hot melt adhesives and coatings. These markets for VAM tend to be mature with growth around GDP levels.
However, a stronger growth area for VAM is ethylene vinyl alcohol (EVOH) polymers which have excellent barrier properties, allowing them to be used in flexible food packing films, plastic bottles and automobile gasoline tanks.
VAM is also the raw material for polyvinyl alcohol (PVOH) which is used as a component of adhesives and paints. PVOH is also the raw material for polyvinyl butyral (PVB) resins which form the transparent adhesive film that bonds layers of safety glass together.
The fastest growing outlet for acetic acid is its second largest derivative, purified terephthalic acid (PTA). Demand for PTA is being driven by the boom in polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle resins and polyester fibre. Globally, PTA’s share of acetic acid consumption is 17% but this figure is over 44% in China, and 21% for the rest of Asia.
Acetate esters, which accounts for a total of 17% of acetic acid consumption and forecast to have modest growth, are used as solvents in a wide variety of paints, inks and other coatings as well as in many chemical processes.
Ethyl acetate is used as a solvent in oil-based lacquers and enamels including polyurethane finishes and in inks and adhesives. Butyl acetate has similar applications.
Isopropyl acetate is a fast-evaporating solvent with over three quarters used in gravure printing for plastic films such as bread wrap. The rest finds uses in coatings and adhesives.
Methyl acetate is used as a solvent in fast drying paints such as lacquers as well as waste film in the production of cellulosic adhesives. It is also used as a perfume solvent and a reaction solvent in dye manufacture.
Nearly 17% of acetic acid is consumed in acetic anhydride which is a mature product. It is used primarily to make cellulose acetate which goes into cigarette filters and textile applications. Acetic anhydride is a significant raw material for aspirin, acetaminophen and other pharmaceuticals. It is also used in plasticizers such as acetyl tributyl citrate and triacetin.
Long term global demand for acetic acid is forecast by consultants to grow at 3-4%/year. Growth is much higher in Asia, pulled by China where SRI Consulting says that acetic acid use in VAM production will grow 7% annually in the next five years as a result of the commercial processes used.
In Central and South America, acetic acid consumption is expected to grow at 4–5% annually, as acetate esters use continues to grow. Also, growth will occur as a result of new PTA and VAM capacities. Please click here to see the plants and projects database.
Asia, and in particular China, is experiencing the fastest growth. Much of this growth has been met by imports which could fall within the next few years as new capacity comes on-stream.
No new capacity is likely in Europe. Most new investment is focused in China, with projects also planned in India, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Celanese has said it expects to expand further in either Singapore or the US.
India is also seen as a country where there could be strong acetic acid demand growth in the future. Downstream polyester demand in India is relatively small due to a preference for natural fibres. However, this will change as polyester technology improves while constraints on land for growing cotton increase. VAM demand is also expected to grow strongly in India.
Updated: December 2010
Sources: European chemical profile: Acetic acid, ICB, May 2010; SRI acetic acid, July 2010; plants and projects, ICIS