Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) is an acrylic polymer that has high ultraviolet (UV) resistance and is available as resin or sheet. About two-thirds of consumption is in sheets produced by extrusion or casting, while the remainder is molded into various shapes.
PMMA's primary use is in car headlamps and taillights. The second-largest use is in construction (pool and sanitary ware, architectural fittings), and glazing/signage. Other uses are household appliances, optical media (DVDs, lenses), electronics, mobile phone displays, cosmetics packaging, toys, pens and furniture.
Demand in Europe was healthy in the first half of the year, and showing an average growth of 5%, according to one supplier. But demand crashed in the last quarter of 2008, driven principally by the slump in the automotive and construction sectors. A major supplier estimates demand for sheet to be down by about 10% in 2008 versus 2007.
Many buyers were cancelling or delaying orders at the end of 2008 and PMMA producers worldwide have halted or cut production. Little or no change in demand is expected in the first quarter (Q1) as poor economic conditions prevail.
Spain's Repsol YPF sold its PMMA business last year to French producer Altuglas, a subsidiary of Arkema. German producer Evonik Industries and its Russian joint venture DESTEK announced plans last October to triple extrusion capacity in Podolsk, Russia. Evonik commenced production of PMMA in November at its new €250m ($337m) methacrylates complex in Shanghai, China.
European prices are set to fall in Q1 as raw material prices plummet, ending the upward trend seen over the past three years. Contract prices for standard grade rose by €1,500/tonne in Q4 to an average €2,875/tonne, after holding steady at €2,725/tonne for the previous three quarters.
Producers say margins have been squeezed heavily over the past two years by surging energy and feedstock costs.
PMMA is produced from polymerizing methyl methacrylate (MMA) and several processes are in operation.
For glazing uses, some MMA can be pre-polymerized in a continuous stirred tank reactor and the resulting viscous liquid is fed into a series of flat glass plate-like molds. This type of batch operation is very cumbersome, so continuous polymerization/cast technologies also operate. In belt polymerization processes, the MMA/PMMA syrup is injected between continuous highly polished metal belts. Continuous and batch solution processes are also known.
Japan's Mitsubishi Rayon has developed a recycling process that produces MMA monomer from waste PMMA using sand as a thermal catalyst, then produces PMMA again from the monomer.
European demand has grown by around 3% over the past few years. Asia and production of liquid crystal display (LCD) screens have been key drivers of world growth, but demand for flat screen televisions and monitors has fallen for the first time since they launched in 2000 due to the economic crisis.
Uncertainty clouds the market as players wait to see whether there will be any upturn in demand in Q2. Global output will continue to be affected by the downturn in the automotive and construction sectors.
Projects, confined to high-growth Asian countries, are likely to be delayed.
GLOBAL PMMA CAPACITY, '000 TONNES/YEAR
|Bristol, Pennsylvania, US||na|
|Jinhae, South Korea||40|
|Kensington, Connecticut, US||na|
|Louisville, Kentucky, US||na|
|St. Avold, France||30|
|Asahi Kasei||Chiba, Japan||20|
|Chi Mei||Jen-Te, Taiwan||90|
|Heilongjiang Longxin Chemical||Anda, China||12|
|LG MMA||Yosu, South Korea||50|
|Lucite||Rozenburg, the Netherlands||30|
|Mitsubishi Rayon Polymer Nantong||Nantong, China||40|
|Quinn Plastics||Mainz, Germany||40|
|Shanghai Jing Qi Polymer Science||Shanghai, China||20|
|Singapore Methyl Methacrylate||Sakra, Singapore||50|
|Sumitomo Chemical||Niihama, Japan||45|
|TPI Polyacrylate||Muang, Thailand||10|
na - not available
Profile last published June 30, 2003