US chemical profile: Perchloroethylene

Feliza Mirasol

21-Apr-2011

USES
Perchloroethylene (perc) is mainly used as a chemical intermediate, particularly as a basic raw material in the manufacture of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) 134a, which is an alternative to chlororfluorocarbon (CFC) refrigerants. Perc is also used in making hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) 123 and 124, as well as HFC 125.

Perc is also used as a solvent, with primary applications in commercial and industrial ­dry cleaning. The aerospace and automotives industries use perc for vapor degreasing of metal parts during production stages. Other perc applications include ­extraction of fats, paint removal and sulfur recovery.

SUPPLY/DEMAND
Perc has been short in the US because of strong demand from the refrigerant sector and stable demand from the solvent sector.

US February imports of chlorinated solvents including perc, methylene chloride and trichloroethylene (TCE) surged by 199% year on year, according to data released by the US International Trade Commission on April 12.

Total imports of the three products rose to 8,006 tonnes in February, up from 2,676 tonnes in the same month a year ago. Perc ­accounted for the biggest jump.

Perc imports rose to 7,864 tonnes in February, from 2,571 tonnes a year ago. Month-on-month perc imports saw the biggest gain, up from 3,005 tonnes in January.

Conversely, the biggest export increase year on year and month on month also came from perc, which shot up by 258% year on year and 171% month on month.

Supply has been tight, despite several producers running at a high rate and working to debottleneck their facilities to produce more perc. Producers said they cannot keep up ­with demand, especially from the refrigerant sector.

Demand is strong but has slowed down in recent weeks because of moderate temperatures. However, with temperatures expected to rise in the coming weeks, refrigerant demand should pick up, said a refrigerant seller.

Demand from the solvent sector is also strong, according to several perc producers.

PRICES
US perc prices held steady at record prices for the week ended April 12. However, rumors began that a price increase nomination could be coming within a month or two.

The most recent price increase nominations of 9-10 cents/lb ($198-220/tonne, €137-152/tonne) took effect in mid-February. US spot perc prices were 84-94 cents/lb FOB (free on board), as assessed by ICIS.

Producers said the supply-demand balance favored their position. Further price increase nominations would find traction in the market because of tight supply, they added.

TECHNOLOGY
Perc has traditionally been produced by ­reacting acetylene with chlorine using ­trichloroethylene as an intermediate, but ­nowadays, acetylene has been replaced by a variety of feedstocks such as ethylene dichloride (EDC), C1-C3 hydrocarbons or chlorinated ­hydrocarbon wastes. The decline in demand for carbon tetrachloride and CFCs has also led to the switch of processes.

OUTLOOK
The perc market remains tight in the US, as strong demand from the refrigerant sector drives the market.

Some changes in application include US-based Dow Chemical’s announcement in March that it will no longer sell perc into the aerosol solvent market in North America, ­effective June 1. Instead, Dow is said to be targeting its perc into more environmental and emissions-friendly applications.

It is unlikely, however, that Dow’s ­decision will have much of an effect on the perc ­market, according to market sources. It is expected that other producers will take up the slack.

In related news, a New Jersey state fund designed to reduce air emissions from perc used in dry cleaning received 285 applicants in ­January. Meanwhile, federal regulations will ban the use of perc in dry cleaning in many urban areas starting in 2020, based on the classification of perc as a substance that is carcinogenic to humans, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Overall perc demand in the US was expected to grow at 1.5%/year from 168,000 tonnes in 2007 to 178,000 tonnes in 2011, as assessed by ICIS. In the longer term, however, increased recycling and gradual substitution of perc in cleaning applications are expected to reduce demand.

For the latest market prices and reports on more than 120 commodity chemicals, please visit ICIS pricing

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