Chemical profile: 1,4-Butanediol


Mark Kirschner/New York

2007: 870m lbs 2008: 865m lbs 2012: 935m lbs, projected. Demand equals production plus imports (2007: 112m lbs 2008: 71m lbs) less exports (2007: 198m lbs 2008: 180m lbs). Sources: ICIS Chemical Business US Census Bureau (USCB) US International Trade Commission (USITC)

Historical (2003-2008): 2.9%/year. Future: 2%/year through 2012. Source: ICIS Chemical Business

Historical (2003-2008): High, 133 cents/lb, North America, contract, delivered low, 52 cents/lb, same basis Current: 90-105 cents/lb, same basis Source: ICIS pricing

Tetrahydrofuran, 50% gamma-butyrolactone, 25% polybutylene terephthalate (PBT) resins, 20% polyurethanes (PUs), 3% miscellaneous, including uses as a solvent, a coating resin raw material, and an intermediate in chemical and pharmaceutical production, 2%. Source: ICIS Chemical Business

About 65% of 1,4-butanediol (BDO) is consumed captively, as all US manufacturers are forward integrated into the significant BDO derivatives. Half of the remaining production is under long-term contracts, and the remainder supplied to the merchant market. The BDO chain has three main branches: tetrahydrofuran (THF) derivatives, gamma-butyrolactone (GBL) derivatives and PBT resins.

THF is the largest use for BDO, accounting for 50% of total consumption. Approximately 80% of THF is used for the production of polytetramethylene ether glycol (PTMEG), which in turn is used in the manufacture of cast and thermoplastic urethane elastomers, PU fibers (spandex) and high-performance copolyester-ether elastomers. The remaining 20% of THF is for use as a solvent in the manufacture of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), cements and coatings, and in precision magnetic tape.

GBL derivatives consume another 25% of BDO. About 65% of GBL is used for the manufacture of N-methyl-2-pyrrolidone, which in turn is used as a solvent in lube oil extraction, electronics applications, paint strippers, magnetic wire coatings and engineering resins. Some 25% is used in the manufacture of 2-pyrrolidone/Nvinyl-2-pyrrolidone/polyvinylpyrrolidone, which in turn is used in the production of copolymers in consumer and pharmaceutical applications, including cosmetics, hair spray, germicide and tablet binders in the paper, textile and agricultural industries and in miscellaneous applications, such as process aids in beverage clarification. The remaining 10% is consumed primarily as a solvent for agricultural chemicals and lithography.

PBT resins consume 20% of BDO. These resins are high-performance, high-molecular-weight polymers ultimately consumed in the automotive industry and in electrical/electronics components and parts. PBT resin is produced by the polycondensation of approximately equal molar proportions of BDO and dimethyl terephthalate (DMT).

In the past five years, BDO enjoyed an average growth rate of nearly 3%/year. Though its big end-uses like THF derivatives, GBL derivatives and PBT resins are becoming mature industry sectors, BDO still performs better than GDP, which is projected to decline by 2.2% in 2009. With the domestic supply-demand situation in balance to tight, and with no BDO capacity additions underway in the US, imported product will become even more important over the forecast period. BDO demand is projected to grow by 2%/year through 2012.


Company Location Capacity
BASF Geismar, Louisiana 300
INVISTA LaPorte, Texas 245
InternationalSpecialty Products Lima, Ohio 145
LyondellBasell Channelview, Texas 120


There are a number of process technologies available for the production of BDO. The traditional method is the Reppe process, in which acetylene is reacted with formaldehyde. Netherlands-based chemical giant LyondellBasell employs a three-step conversion of propylene oxide (PO), developed in conjunction with Japan-based Kuraray. The newest processes use maleic anhydride (MA) or n-butane as starting points. UK-based BP Chemicals, with German engineering firm Lurgi developed an integrated butane-to-BDO process, which is employed at International Specialty Products' plant (formerly owned by BP Chemicals) in Lima, Ohio. Called the Geminox process, it combines BP's process for the catalytic oxidation of butane in air using a fluidized bed, with Lurgi's fixed-bed fatty acid hydrogenation technology.

INVISTA is a wholly owned subsidiary of US industrial group Koch Industries. INVISTA is the former DuPont Textiles & Interiors business and was sold to Koch in May, 2004. KoSa, Koch's polyester and intermediates subsidiary, was added to it at the same time.

LyondellBasell was formed in December, 2007, when Lyondell Chemical merged with Basell, a Dutch producer. Basell was a unit of Access Industries.

Profile last published August 1, 2005

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