The oxo-alcohol 2-ethylhexanol (2-EH) has applications in the building and construction, automotive and appliance industries.
The primary use of 2-EH is in the production of plasticizers. Plasticizers made from 2-EH include dioctyl phthalate (DOP), dioctyl terephthalate (DOTP), trioctyl trimellitate (TOTM) and dioctyl adipate (DOA). These plasticizers are mostly used in PVC for the construction industry. Another usage is in the manufacture of acrylate and methacrylate esters, which go into adhesives and coatings. 2-EH is also used as a fuel additive; as a part of 2-ethylhexyl nitrate it is added to diesel to boost the cetane number. It may also be used as a solvent or in the production of surfactants.
Currently, the 2-EH market in the US is balanced, with domestic plants working at normal capacity and demand coming from the construction, paints and coatings, automotive and fuel additive industries.
Turnarounds at 2-EH producing facilities are planned for the second quarter of 2014, but producers have prepared for this in advance and are not expecting turnarounds to have a major effect on supply in the US.
A particularly harsh winter in the US slowed some demand for 2-EH to be used in PVC and flexible plastic application such as pipes, flooring, wire and cable coating, but this has been picking up as spring begins and new housing or remodeling projects start.
While traditionally 2-EH was used in DOP, companies in the US and Europe have been moving away from DOP due to health concerns about phthalates. Increasingly, non-phthalate plasticizers such as DOTP and TOTM are used instead of DOP.
US exports of 2-EH rose last year, up 45% to 108,177 tonnes from 2012 to 2013. Countries in the Americas were the primary market for US 2-EH last year, with 18,633 tonnes going to Colombia and 16,890 tonnes to Canada.
As of February 2014, 11,926 tonnes of 2-EH had been exported from the US, down slightly from the 12,641 tonnes exported by February 2013.
The total amount of 2-EH imported to the US in 2013 was 30,044 tonnes, up 2% from 2012. Over half of this came from Germany, where Oxea produces 2-EH.
As of the end of February 2014, the US had imported 6,267 tonnes of 2-EH, up from 4,391 tonnes in February 2013. Again, product from Oxea in Germany makes up the bulk of these imports.
Along with basic supply/demand dynamics, the costs of feedstock propylene often drives 2-EH price movements. An increase in raw material costs generally spurs producers to try for a price increase, with customers less likely to accept increased 2-EH prices without seeing propylene up in price.
2-EH US contract prices were generally softer in the last quarter of 2013. Following a price movement upwards in September, prices rolled over for October then moved down in November on the back of slackening seasonal demand and lower feedstock costs.
After flat prices in December, higher propylene prices led to 2-EH prices going up in January 2014. Since then, steady demand and lower propylene prices have kept 2-EH flat.
BASF and Eastman Chemical are currently the only companies producing 2-EH in the US.
To make 2-EH, propylene is reacted with a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide to form n-butyraldehyde. This is called hydroformylation or the oxo process. The n-butyraldehyde then undergoes aldol condensation, dehydration and hydrogenation, resulting in 2-EH.
New production capacity is coming to the US 2-EH market as producers have seen an increase in demand for the oxo-alcohol. Improving delivery capabilities for customers in North America has also been cited as a reason for expansion.
Though DOP has become less popular as a plasticizer worldwide, 2-EH usage in non-phthalate plasticizers is expected to keep demand for 2-EH growing as more non-phthalate products are adopted. Additional usage in acrylates, fuel additives and other applications can also spur demand.
Eastman Chemical is expanding the 2-EH capacity at its Longview, Texas, facility by around 20,000 tonnes/year. The company expects to complete this expansion in the fourth quarter of 2014. Previously, Eastman had expanded 2-EH capacity at Longview by 32,000 tonnes/year in April 2012.
Oxea plans on producing 2-EH in the US and recently started basic engineering for a 2-EH unit at Bay City, Texas. The unit is scheduled to come on stream in late 2016.