Global demand for polycarbonate is expected to grow at an average of almost 5% a year, reaching around 4.5 million metric tons by the end of 2016, according to a new market study from market information and analysis giant IHS. The report, IHS Chemical 2012 World Polycarbonate and ABS Analysis (formerly from CMAI), states that global polycarbonate sales increased by around 3% in 2011, continuing growth in 2010 after sales fell in 2009. In the USA alone, demand for polycarbonate was estimated at 360 thousand metric tons in 2011.
Polycarbonate has a unique combination of properties, which make it especially suitable for many applications. It has very high impact strength and is almost unbreakable. Toughness, combined with transparency, high temperature resistance and being lightweight, makes polycarbonate a perfect candidate for demanding transparent applications where safety is required. And its ability to withstand high temperature sterilisation makes it suitable for medical equipment and instruments.
However, despite its many uses, polycarbonate has not avoided scrutiny. Rumours concerning the safety of bisphenol A (BPA) leaching out of polycarbonate baby bottles when heated has led to some manufacturers to reassess usage. However, at present there is no firm proof that BPA presents a health risk. The US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) is in the process of doing a multi-year assessment of the possible hazards related to exposure to BPA and although their assessment is not complete, they recently denied a request to ban BPA in food packaging saying that the science does not show an immediate concern.
According to the IHS report, polycarbonate supply is currently spread relatively evenly around the world amongst the four major regions of North America, Europe, Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia. However, Northeast Asia, which is already the largest producing region, is also growing the most rapidly in terms of capacity additions and so will ultimately dominate all other regions in terms of supply. “One of the key reasons for this is that so many of the world’s consumer durable goods are produced in Northeast Asia, that it just makes sense for companies to build the polycarbonate production facilities close by,” added Beale.
Several companies produce polycarbonate globally, but two companies, Bayer (German-based), and SABIC of Saudi Arabia, produce the lion’s share of world supply, owning around 28% and 25% of global capacity, respectively.
In addition to the IHS Chemical 2012 World Polycarbonates and ABS Analysis, IHS Chemical offers world analyses for other key chemicals, plastics and fiber intermediates on a continual basis. The reports provide comprehensive studies of long-term market trends, and most are produced on an annual basis with a five-year historical market review and supply/demand and price forecast. Other world analyses include: benzene; butadiene; butylenes; chlor-alkali, cumene, phenol and acetone; ethylene oxide and ethylene glycol; light olefins; acetyls; methanol; nylon engineering resins, nylon feedstocks and fibres; petrochemical feedstocks; polyolefins; polystyrene/expandable polystyrene; soda ash, styrene; terephthalates and polyester; toluene and mixed xylenes; and vinyls.