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Published: January 2011
Acetylene is used as an intermediate in chemical manufacture and as an industrial fuel gas in the metalworking industry, primarily for cutting and welding.
In the past, acetylene was used in the manufacture of several large-volume derivatives. Feedstock replacement and/or more economical processes were the major drivers in acetylene demand decline. The availability and cost of competing replacement raw materials and domestic demand varies significantly by region. For example, by 1983, acrylic acid–producing companies in the United States had replaced acetylene with less-costly propylene-based processes, while acetylene was still being used as a feedstock for the same derivative in Germany until 1995.
By the late 1990s, declines in overall demand for acetylene in industrialized regions were offset by robust demand growth in China.
The following pie chart shows consumption of acetylene by major region:
Factors that have contributed and will continue to contribute to China's rapid development of acetylene over the past decade include:
- Steady economic growth, leading to strong demand for VCM (PVC) in finished goods, construction (pipes, wires, etc) and in developing infrastructure.
- Abundant coal reserves becoming increasingly attractive during 2004–2007 as a result of rising petroleum and ethylene prices.
- Restricted availability and infrastructure of ethylene and coproduct streams outside of large petrochemical complexes.
- Government pressure to develop industry in noncoastal regions of China, to create jobs and balance disparities in wealth.
- Government-defined rationalizations of certain raw materials and derivatives
Approximately 95–98% of acetylenic chemical demand is in the production of 1,4-butanediol. 1,4-Butanediol is a raw material used in the production of various products including polybutylene terephthalate (PBT) resins, which are used in automotive parts such as door handles, bumpers and fascia; gamma-butyrolactone (GBL), which is used to produce N-methyl-2-pyrrolidone (NMP) and 2-pyrrolidone, which are both pharmaceutical and industrial solvents; and as a precursor to tetrahydrofuran (THF), which is predominately consumed in the manufacture of spandex fibers but is also used as a solvent in PVC production. Global demand for 1,4-butanediol will gradually increase over the next couple of years as markets in Japan, the United States and Western Europe recover from the economic downturn. The 1,4-butanediol supply will increase as well, primarily in China; however, a considerable amount of future capacity will be based on nonacetylene routes.
Vinyl acetate monomer is the second-largest chemical outlet for acetylene, the majority of which is used in the production of ethylene–vinyl alcohol resins (EVOH), polyvinyl butyral (PVB) and acetate-ethylene resins used in paints, coatings and adhesives. Manufacture of vinyl acetate monomer (VAM) is concentrated in China (85–90%) and Europe (10–15%). Growth over the forecast period is estimated to occur only in China (at about 7–10% per year) as most other markets are considered mature.