Polycarbonate and nylon markets are looking to improve amid a host of raw-material concerns and, in the case of PC, negative publicity.
Polycarbonate growth is slowing, market analyst Adrian Beale said at the 2010 Plastics News Executive Forum in Tampa. It was big in optical media DVDs and CDs but that's been superceded by other forms of electronic media, primarily downloads.
Tight propylene supplies caused by natural gas-based feeds being used rather than ones based on crude oil also are affecting PC makers, since propylene and benzene are combined to make PC feedstock bisphenol A.
Supplies of benzene also are tight, and should remain so until the end of 2011, said Beale, global engineering resins director for Chemical Market Associates Inc. in Houston.
The shift away from optical media will cause that end market which currently ranks first in global PC demand to slip behind both film and sheet, and electrical/electronic by 2014, he added.
A comeback in the automotive market also could help PC's fortunes, especially if auto window glazing gains wider acceptance. Such a move could be game-changing, according to Beale, adding more than 3 billion pounds to global demand, a jump of roughly 50 percent.
The PC market also needs to overcome negative publicity for alleged health risks linked to BPA use, particularly in baby bottles. Markets for PC water cooler and sport bottles now are being threatened by these allegations.
On the PC capacity front, Saudi Kayan Petrochemical Co. majority owned by Saudi Basic Industries Corp. is set to launch the world's largest PC plant, with 570 million pounds of annual capacity, in Saudi Arabia in late 2011 or early 2012. But many other PC makers have delayed capacity expansions because of poor global demand.
Global operating rates are expected to improve through 2014 climbing from 75 percent to about 82 percent but the PC industry still is looking for the next big application, Beale said.
In nylon, makers of nylon 6/6 including DuPont Co., Invista and Rhodia SA have been affected by shortages of butadiene feedstock. That problem comes on the heels of a 2009 year in which global nylon 6/6 demand fell almost 3 percent, due largely to a steep drop in auto production.
Demand for nylon 6 made by BASF SE, Royal DSM NV, Honeywell Inc. and others fared better, increasing just over 3 percent on the year.
The portion of overall nylon use going into engineering plastic resins was 37 percent in 2009, with the remainder going into fibers and other products. The amount of nylon sold into the engineering plastics segment remained unchanged between 2004 and 2009 at about 4.4 billion pounds globally. But North America's share of global nylon demand dropped from 20 percent to 14 percent in that period, Beale said.
Domestic demand in China has replaced export demand from North America, he said, adding that weight reduction in the auto market is an opportunity for nylon makers in 2010.
Global operating rates for nylon 6 should bounce between 70 percent and 80 percent through 2014, while operating rates for nylon 6/6 should climb from around 70 percent to almost 90 percent in that period as the automotive market recovers.
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