Acrylic Acid, Acrylate Esters and Superabsorbent Polymers
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Published: February 2011
Acrylic acid and esters are perhaps the most versatile series of monomers for providing performance characteristics to thousands of polymer formulations. They are flammable, reactive, volatile liquids based on an alpha-, beta-unsaturated carboxyl structure. Incorporation of varying percentages of acrylate monomers permits the production of thousands of formulations for latex and solution copolymers, copolymer plastics and cross-linkable polymer systems. Their performance characteristics—which impart varying degrees of tackiness, durability, hardness and glass transition temperatures—promote consumption in many end-use applications. Major markets for acrylate esters include surface coatings, textiles, paper coatings, adhesives and sealants, and plastics. Polyacrylic acid or copolymers find applications in superabsorbents, detergents, dispersants, flocculants and thickeners. Superabsorbent polymers are used primarily in disposable diapers. The largest markets for acrylic acid in the major regions are acrylate esters, superabsorbent polymers and other polyacrylic acid end uses.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of crude acrylic acid:
The following pie chart shows world consumption of acrylate esters:
Global demand for crude acrylic acid is forecast to grow at 4.8% annually during 2010–2015, driven by growth in superabsorbent polymers (SAPs) at 5.6% and acrylate esters at 4.3%. Glacial acrylic acid (GAA) is forecast to grow at 5.4% annually during 2010–2015.
Glacial acrylic acid is used to produce superabsorbent polymers and polyacrylic acid homo-, co- and terpolymers used as dispersants/antiscalants, anionic polyelectrolytes for water treatment and rheology modifiers. In 2010, global GAA consumption was approximately 43% of total crude acrylic acid consumption. Consumption was broken down into approximately 74% for SAPs, 16% for water treatment applications, and 9% for detergent cobuilders. As a percentage of total crude acrylic acid, this equates to approximately 32%, 7% and 4%, respectively.
The primary applications for SAPs include use in short-life (disposable) hygiene applications such as baby diapers, adult incontinence, and feminine hygiene products. Other industrial/technical applications are typically more long-life (nondisposable) applications, including protective coatings for electrical cable, food packaging, medical/medical waste adsorbents, agricultural/horticultural soil adsorbents, lubricants/sealants, cosmetics, and thickeners in coatings.
To keep up with SAP demand, glacial acrylic acid capacity will need to grow at 5.3% annually to maintain an already tight supply situation.