VENICE, ITALY - Worldwide demand for polystyrene is expected to slow during the next five years, but still outpace the world economy. Ingolf Buthe, vice president of BASF AG's PS business unit in Ludwigshafen, Germany, said he expects the average PS growth rate to drop to 3 percent a year during the next five years, down from the 4 percent annual rate of the past 10 years.
Buthe spoke at the 1995 World Chemical Conference in Venice.
He said he expects the largest growth in demand for PS to come from southeastern Asia, especially China and India.
``An enormous backlog demand has built up in southeast Asia. For instance, annual per capita consumption in China is only 14 ounces; in India, it is a mere 3.5 ounces. By contrast, an American consumes 18.92 pounds per year,'' Buthe said.
``Basically, polystyrene requirements are determined by population density, population growth and disposable income. In newly emerging economies, such as China and India, polystyrene is widely used as initial engineering plastic, and thus provides for additional growth impetus,'' Buthe said.
He said he expects global PS consumption nearly to double to 33 billion pounds a year by 2010. Currently, worldwide consumption of PS is 18.3 billion pounds a year. Buthe expects PS consumption in southeastern Asia to more than triple by 2010.
Meanwhile, he noted that there has been a basic shift in the number of companies that supply PS.
Monsanto Chemical Co., Hoechst AG, Mobil Chemical Co. and Arco Chemical Co. have dropped out of the business, while Huntsman Chemical Co. and Chi Mei Industrial Co. have entered it.
Mobil sold its basic PS resin business to BASF in 1992, while retaining its expanded PS business. That business was part of the $1.27 billion sale of Mobil's plastics operations to Tenneco Inc.'s Packaging Corp. of America unit, based in Evanston, Ill. The sale to Tenneco is scheduled to close by Nov. 15.
``At present, Dow Chemical Co., Huntsman and BASF are the only three global suppliers,'' Buthe said, adding that other companies compete effectively on regional bases throughout the world.
Market leaders in various regions typically control 20-25 percent of local markets, and runners-up control 15-20 percent of local markets, he said.
Buthe said he sees PS demand coming from packaging applications throughout the world, and for applications in home appliances, especially as refrigerator interior lining materials, auto-mobiles and other vehicles and as EPS for such new products as bicycle helmets, insulation and food-handling materials.
The uses of PS for many have tended to be regional in the past, Buthe said.
However, with the exception of packaging applications that are tending to remain regionally oriented, Buthe said the uses of PS more often are being made globally by internationally oriented corporations.
``The trend toward globalization is becoming more and more obvious in the automobile sector, in the electronics industry and, especially, in high-technology sectors such as the aerospace industry,'' he said.
Also, he noted that the leading PS producers will have to be involved with recycling efforts to quell environmental concerns.