NEW DELHI (Feb. 8, 3:55 p.m. ET) — India’s persistent water shortages could mean rapid growth for its rotational molding industry, with one new study saying spending on new water-related projects will help the industry shrug off the worldwide economic slowdown and grow 12 percent a year over the next five years.
The study, from Indian resin maker Reliance Industries Ltd., suggests that the population growth in the world’s second-most populous country will continue to stress its water supplies, putting it close to critical levels of water scarcity by 2025.
While that’s a huge societal challenge, rotomolding executives from India and around the world meeting at a recent conference in New Delhi looked at the business opportunities it presents.
“We believe underground water storage could provide the next big breakthrough, and this could be the catalyst for the next phase of growth for this industry,” said Puneet Madan, business head of polyethylenes for Reliance, who delivered the study. “Water storage will provide significant demand for this industry because of the needs in India.”
India’s rotomolding industry is currently the world’s second-largest, after the United States, Reliance estimates.
It grew more than 10 percent a year between 2006 and 2011, driven by rising consumer demand, although 2011 saw a marked drop to about 3 percent growth amid problems in both the world economy and India’s real estate market, Madan said.
But Reliance and other industry executives at the Society of Asian Rotomolders conference, held Jan. 29-31 in New Delhi, said they believe the underlying demand from India’s development will continue to push rapid growth and any slowdown will be short-lived.
Reliance, citing figures from Houston-based consulting firm Chemical Market Associates Inc., said India’s rotomolding sector is projected to grow from 260 million pounds of plastic consumption last year to 474 million pounds in 2016.
Indian rotomolders added 88 million pounds of capacity in both 2010 and 2011, in anticipation of growth in consumption, Reliance said.
The United States, by comparison, will grow much more slowly, from 653 million pounds to 697 million pounds of consumption in the same period, after being flat from 2006 to 2011. And the third-largest market, China, will grow from 243 million pounds to 403 million pounds between 2011 and 2016.
Statistics make the scope of India’s water crisis clear. Reliance said the country had more than 528,000 gallons of water available per person annually in 1991, but by 2001 that had dipped to just below that number and reached the “water stress line.”
By 2025, water availability will fall to about 343,000 gallons per person, close to the more severe “water scarcity level” of about 291,000 gallons a person.
By 2050, when India’s population hits a projected 1.66 billion from its current 1.22 billion, it will officially reach “water scarcity,” Reliance said. In 1951, by comparison, India had more than 1.3 million gallons of water available annually per person.
“What can we all do given this statistic that is staring us in the face,” Madan asked the conference attendees.
In an interview after his speech, he said many Indian homes only have running water part of the day, so they buy rotomolded tanks to collect water and store it for use later.
Indian rotomolders have historically specialized in above-ground tanks for that market, and that application still accounts for about 70 percent of their production, much higher than in many other countries.
But the industry is looking to modernize and move away from those tanks, which are relatively simple to manufacture, and diversify into other more complicated products like underground tanks and new markets like automotive and agriculture.
To do that, the biggest challenge they face is technology, some participants said.
“The rotomolders need to upgrade themselves to the latest technology, processes and systems,” said Venkit Mahadevan, Mumbai-based national sales manager for American materials supplier A. Schulman Plastics India Pvt. Ltd. and its Ico Polymers division.
Mukesh Ambani, president of the Society of Asian Rotomolders in New Delhi and managing director of Mumbai-based rotomolder Infra Industries Ltd., said there is significant interest from foreign rotomolders to invest in India’s sector. There are opportunities for both sides, with Indian firms needing technology, he said.
One new partnership was announced at the conference. Italian mold maker Roto Moulds srl announced a technology transfer and sales partnership with mold maker and machinery manufacturer M. Plast (India) Ltd.
One of the reasons for the tie-up, M. Plast executives said, was because the Italian firm had a lot of experience in the underground water storage tank market.