Coronavirus pandemic creates new application for PMMA sheet market

Katherine Sale


LONDON (ICIS)–The coronavirus pandemic has caused a huge surge in demand for polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) transparent sheets, used across the globe as protective barriers to prevent the spread of the virus.

This is a new application for the sheets, with order books full for most of 2020 for cast and extruded sheet producers.

Some are also looking at investing in new extrusion machinery, in order to increase output, as plants are already operating at 100%.

One seller said it would be able to double its output based on the demand, but is restricted by the plant production patterns.

The higher transparent sheet demand is helping to offset some of the weaker consumption from the main automotive and construction applications.

Higher demand from the sheet sector has resulted in an increase in spot prices for PMMA resin, with some players quoting a 25% rise over the last month.

In the second-wave of the implementation of the barriers, sheets will be added to offices, more commercial stores, and potentially in public transport.

Shops and pharmacies are also looking at installing the barriers for on a permanent basis.

“We believe the screens are a new application, and will not disappear even when the virus is stopped,” said one producer.

Acrylic sheets would be the optimum polymer to use because they can be sterilised, without impacting the appearance or the transparency of the sheet.

This makes PMMA the most sought-after polymer, over polycarbonate (PC) or polyethylene terephthalate-glycol (PET-G).

European PMMA second-quarter contracts settled at a rollover, driven by higher demand from the transparent sheet sector, and poor margins.

There had been a delay in some settlements because of recent drops in feedstocks, but the majority of contracts remained stable.

ICIS assesses standard grade PMMA resin into the extruded sheet sector. Compounded, injected, coloured and specialty grades will all be at a higher level.

Demand for the automotive sector is expected to remain poor, with little appetite for expensive purchases, such as new vehicles.

The chart below shows ICIS senior olefin analyst Paolo Scafetta’s forecasts (dotted lines) for passenger car sales for the rest of 2020; the solid lines are based on data from the EU’s automobile trade group ACEA, with the 16-year range referring to the 2004-2019 period.

Front line picture source: A factory in Spain producing methacrylate-based protective screens
Source: Adria Salido/SOPA Images/Shutterstock

Focus article by Katherine Sale


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