Chemical profile: polycarbonate

05 May 2008 00:00 Source:ICIS Chemical Business

DEMAND

2006: 1.2bn lbs (544,000 tonnes) 2007: 1.26bn lbs 2011: 1.53bn lbs, projected. Demand equals production plus imports (2006: 161m lbs 2007: 159m lbs) less exports (2006: 867m lbs 2007: 874m lbs). Source: ICIS Chemical Business, USITC

GROWTH

Historical (2002-2007): 6.4%/year. Future: 5%/year through 2011. Source: ICIS Chemical Business

PRICE

Historical (2002-2007): High, $2.19/lb, contract price, US Gulf (USG), general-purpose molding resin, pellets, truckload, freight, delivered (DEL) low, $1.42/lb, same basis. Current: $1.90-2.14/lb, same basis.

High, $1.89/lb, spot price, USG, general-purpose molding resin, pellets, truckload, freight, DEL low, 90 cents/lb, same basis. Current: $1.38-1.42/lb, same basis. Source: ICIS pricing

USES

Optical media, 25% glazing and sheet, 21% automotive, 14% medical, 9% computers and business machines, 7% recreation and safety, 7% appliances, 4% packaging, 3% miscellaneous, including electrical, lighting and film uses, 10%. Source: ICIS Chemical Business

MARKET PERSPECTIVE

Polycarbonate (PC) resins are tough thermoplastics with markets in the electrical/electronic sectors, such as computer and business equipment and optical discs, glazing and sheet products, and in the automotive industry. PC can be alloyed with other resins such as polybutylene terephthalate (PBT) and acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) to tailor price/performance properties to specific end-uses.

The optical media segment of CDs and DVDs has recorded the strongest growth, of around 10%/year, in the 2001-2005 period. But its growth will slow as CDs and DVDs are displaced by MP3 players, high-speed internet, and USB flash drives.

Growth is still expected in other sectors, such as alloys used in automotive and electronic products, mobile phones, TVs, business equipment and sheet and construction products. With higher fuel economy goals recently mandated in the US, automotive glazing offers potentially strong growth for PC. PC is now used in rear lights, roof modules and fixed side windows.

In April, the US government's National Toxicology Program reported that low bisphenol A (BPA) doses raise "some concern" regarding possible adverse effects on prostate and mammary glands and possible accelerated puberty in females.

Several retailers have begun to remove PC food and beverage containers from their shelves. The effect will be small, however, as total packaging applications only consume about 40m lbs, or about 3% of overall demand. The apparent operating rate for the PC sector is about 94%.

OUTLOOK

A composite growth rate of 5%/year is forecast in the US over the next four years.

Some market participants predict that a prolonged weakness in the US housing market, along with global capacity additions from Japan's Teijin and Mitsubishi, Germany-based Bayer, and Taiwan's Formosa Idemitsu Petrochemical will keep the PC market oversupplied for years. This new capacity could reduce US exports, especially to Asia. Exports account for 45% of US production.

US POLYCARBONATE CAPACITY, MILLIONS OF LBS/YEAR

Company Location Capacity
BayerMaterialScience Baytown, Texas 770
Dow Chemical Freeport, Texas 230
SABIC Innovative Plastics Burkville, Alabama 585
SABIC Innovative Plastics Mount Vernon,Indiana 540
TOTAL 2,125
SOURCE: ICIS CHEMICAL BUSINESS

*Millions of lbs/year of polycarbonate (PC) resins. The traditional manufacturing process is a condensation polymerization using phosgene and bisphenol A (BPA), which is derived from phenol and acetone. Unblended resin accounts for more than 80% of PC demand. The balance consists of blends or alloys with other resins.

Saudi Arabia's SABIC acquired GE Advanced Materials last September. The business was renamed SABIC Innovative Plastics, and remains headquartered in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, US.


Profile last published February 28, 2005

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