Chemical profile: Epoxy resins

Author: John Dietrich

2012/01/23

USES
Epoxy resins have high chemical and ­electrical resistance and outstanding adhesion, as well as durability at high and low temperatures, and they can also be poured or cast without forming bubbles. These attributes make epoxy resins useful in encapsulating electrical and electronic components.

Epoxy resin adhesives can be used on ­metals, construction materials and most other synthetic resins.

They are also strong enough to be used in place of rivets and welds in ­certain industrial applications. Other ­applications include coatings, construction, automotive and civil engineering.

 profile 1

 Epoxy Resin

SUPPLY/DEMAND
Epoxy resins demand in the US is expected to be about 1-2 percentage points over GDP in 2012. This is largely due to the variety of uses for the material.

Epoxy resins are seeing strong sales in the automotive coatings market, after US car sales improved in 2011, and sales are expected to increase again in 2012.

Oilfield resins are also a strong growth ­market for epoxy resins.

The electronics coatings market is also strong in the US, as consumer goods sales are stable to slightly stronger on improved ­demand for tablet computers and cell phones.

Meanwhile, the coatings market is in a ­seasonal lull as cooler weather cuts into ­construction activity. However, with warmer weather ­approaching producers are optimistic for 2012 sales.

Domestic supplies have loosened on ­increased import availability, especially from Asia. Improved margins in Asia are tightening supply, but most buyers said they are still able to source material with ease.

In terms of exports, US epoxide resins exports decreased by 31% in November 2011, falling to 9,975 tonnes from 14,428 tonnes for the same month a year ago, according to data released by the US International Trade Commission (ITC).

For imports, US November volumes increased by 5% to 5,994 tonnes in 2011 from 5,716 tonnes in 2010.

PRICES
US epoxy resins prices were stable in the week ending January 13, but are expected to increase on higher feedstock costs.

Prices were assessed by ICIS at $1.45-1.59/lb ($3,197-3,505/tonne, €2,525-2,769/tonne) DEL bulk (delivered in bulk) for domestic ­material. Import prices were at $1.41-1.46/tonne DEL bulk.

With upstream January benzene prices ­increasing by 70 cents/gal, phenol is expected increase by 9.50 cents/lb - a hike which would be passed along to epoxy resins.

Sources said that although US domestic prices fell by 27-36 cents/lb in the second half of 2011 on a glut of import material, a repeat performance has not materialized at the start of 2012.

On the import side prices are expected to increase, tracking the rise in domestic ­material. Importers and distributors said there is no reason to keep prices artificially low.

Sources also said foreign producers are feeling less pressure to sell into the US market, as their individual domestic markets have ­recovered slightly.

TECHNOLOGY
Epoxy is a copolymer formed from a resin and a hardening chemical. Most common epoxy resins are produced from a reaction between epichlorohydrin (ECH) and bisphenol A (BPA), though the latter may be replaced by similar chemicals.

The hardener consists of polyamine ­monomers, such as triethylenetetramine. When mixed together, the amine groups react with the epoxide groups to form a covalent bond. The resulting polymer is heavily crosslinked, and is thus rigid and strong.

Curing through polymerization can be ­controlled through temperature and the choice of resin and hardener compounds. The process can take minutes to hours.

Some formulations benefit from heating during the cure period, whereas others simply require time and ambient temperatures.

OUTLOOK
After the decline in epoxy resins prices in the second half of 2011, the market is expected to show a rebound during the stronger summer season. Automotive sales are expected to remain strong through 2012, as are sales of ­consumer electronics and oilfield technology.

However, the marine coatings, multi-purpose ­coatings and adhesives markets are all forecasted to remain flat, and concerns about the health of the US economy abound.

The wind power market is also expected to see continued growth of about 10-12% above GDP. However, the two biggest markets will be India and China, making export material a key priority.

Upstream, costs are expected to increase after the expected shutdown of US company Sunoco's 545,000 tonne/year Philadelphia cumene unit in Pennsylvania in March of 2012. The shutdown is expected to tighten cumene availability and raise prices, which will be passed downstream to epoxy resins prices through BPA.

Epichlorohydrin prices are also expected to be higher on tighter supply, after an ­explosion on November 13 at Tosoh's Nanyo chlorvinyls plant in Japan.

For more on epoxy resins and hundreds of other chemicals visit the ICIS Chemical Intelligence database at icis.com