Chemical profile: US epoxy resins

07 February 2014 10:15 Source:ICIS Chemical Business

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 resins 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.

he US epoxy resins market remains oversupplied because of weaker-than-expected demand in 2013, as well as aggressive selling by overseas producers.

Sources said the long supply started in mid-2013 as the usually strong coatings season was softer than projected, leaving domestic producers with higher-than-desired inventories.

Weak demand in Asia and Europe then led to producers in those regions competing more aggressively for sales by shifting their focus to the US market, which was the strongest for most of the year.

Overseas sellers kept a discount of 8-10 cents/lb for much of the second half of 2013, allowing them to gain market share while US producers tried to hold prices steady.

Most sources said demand for 2014 is expected to be steady or slightly higher, but will not be able to erase the glut of supply.

US producers are expected to keep their operating rates lower than normal to help them destock inventories.

Market players said they expect the subsidies for wind blade production from the US government to taper off or stop, which will likely prevent the market from re-balancing and keep it long.

US February domestic epoxy resin contract prices are expected to climb 3-4 cents/lb ($66-88/tonne) up to the mid-$1.30s/lb to low-$1.40s/lb.

The increase is being sought by producers because feedstock costs have increased and demand has been flat.

However, even with the increase, domestic epoxy resin prices would be 5-6% lower year on year, reflecting the long supply and steady demand.

Buyers said that they are agreeing to the increase because importers and overseas sellers have also raised the asking price on spot material.

This has put spot material in the US in the low-$1.30s/lb to mid-$1.30s/lb, for imported and domestic material.

The aggressive selling by overseas producers has left spot epoxy resin prices in the US down 6-7% year on year.

Spot prices are expected to hold steady in February and March as there is not enough demand to support further increases, sources said.

Epoxy is a copolymer formed from a resin and a hardening chemical.

The 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.

The US epoxy resins market is expected to be oversupplied for much of 2014, which should keep prices lower than expected.

Buyers said the demand outlook is mixed and that the peak coatings season will likely resemble 2013 more than 2012.

In the second half of the year, demand could improve, and most sources said that supply will likely start to tighten as producers reduce inventories.

The US market is expected to remain the strongest globally, keeping pressure from European and Asian producers consistent throughout the year.

US domestic producers are expected to keep their contract material at a 3-5 cent/lb premium to imported material in order to keep market share.

However, sources said that domestic producers have been offering spot product at the same prices as offer levels for imported material.

Most buyers agreed that when imported material gets to a discount of 8-10 cents/lb or more, it gets bought quickly, keeping pressure on domestic producers to match.

Most market players said they do not expect a gap that wide to hit the market for most of 2014.

By John Dietrich