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Published: March 2013
Acetic acid is an ecologically friendly product. It is one of the few chemicals that can be found in most kitchens (as vinegar). Acetic acid manufactured by first intent is termed virgin acid; that recovered from other processing is termed recovered, although it is often of equal quality to virgin acid if properly purified.
Recovered acetic acid represents a major source of acetic acid. The largest providers of recovered acid are from the production of cellulose acetates, polyvinyl alcohol operations and numerous acetic anhydride acylations.
Recycling acetic acid from processes generating it was generally practiced long before recovery of coproducts became a customary practice. Large quantities of acetic acid are produced as a coproduct of many reactions. It is usually recovered and recycled or sold. Some is sold as an aqueous solution on a contained-acid basis. Properly purified recovered acid can be substituted for virgin acid in most applications (for example, acetic anhydride, and vinyl acetate monomer).
The major routes for synthetic acetic acid production include methanol carbonylation, butane/naphtha oxidation and methyl acetate carbonylation. Acetic acid production from methanol and synthesis gas has high selectivity and conversion, so there are minimal by-products.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of acetic acid:
Vinyl acetate monomer is the largest use for acetic acid in China, the United States, Western Europe and Japan. The largest portion of global acetic acid consumption is for vinyl acetate monomer (VAM) production (32% of the total). VAM is used in polymer manufacture for adhesives and coatings.
The second-largest global acetic acid use is for terephthalic acid production (PTA). PTA is mainly used for the manufacture of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) solid-state (packaging) resins, fibers and films. A similar global volume of acetic acid is used for acetate esters (ethyl and butyl acetate combined). Acetate esters are used mainly as solvents for inks, paints and coatings.
Acetic acid use for acetic anhydride production accounts for a somewhat smaller amount of total global acetic consumption. Acetic anhydride is mainly used for cellulose flake production.
The remainder of acetic acid is consumed for other purposes such as monochloroacetic acid (MCA), ketene and diketene derivatives, pharmaceuticals, dyestuffs and other industries.
Future growth of the acetic acid market will continue to be driven by the Chinese market. New capacity is expected onstream in the next few years, while strong growth in Chinese consumption of about 7% per year is expected; compared to the global average rate of 4-5% per year.