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Published: July 2012
The single largest use for butadiene is in the production of synthetic elastomers including styrene-butadiene rubber (SBR) and polybutadiene rubber, both of which are consumed in the manufacture of tires. Other elastomer applications include nitrile rubber hoses, mechanical belts, carpet backing, footwear and neoprene products. Butadiene is also copolymerized into plastics, the largest being acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) resins, which are used in various applications.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of butadiene:
Elastomer production represents 60–65% of world butadiene demand, with a majority consumed in tires. Butadiene demand in tires depends on a variety of factors, including
- new vehicle production
- tire design (e.g., tread wear, performance, operating conditions)
- replacement tire demand/consumer spending
- the price of competitive elastomers, including natural rubber
Additional factors that have impacted tire markets in recent years include the use of renewable material in tire manufacture and a focus on improved energy efficiency with labeling laws enacted in Europe. Although not used in tires, both nitrile rubber and polychloroprene elastomers are used in various other automobile applications. Global butadiene elastomer demand is expected to grow at a rate of 4–6% per year.
ABS resins is the third-largest individual end use in 2011, accounting for nearly 12% of total. Used in various home and office appliances, personal electronics and automotive componentry, global demand will likely improve at a rate of 5–6% annually on end-use market growth.
In regions where downstream markets are still developing, such as the Middle East and Other Asia, demand growth will be robust. Continued economic growth and growing demand in China will secure it as the world's largest producer and consumer of butadiene, while in the more mature markets of North America, Western Europe and Japan, growth will be much slower over the forecast period. With rapid development in China, Asia has emerged as the world's most active butadiene market, with new capacity being built close to naphtha-fed steam crackers and expanding derivatives production.
Analysts believe automotive sales in emerging markets may double or possibly triple over the next ten to fifteen years, as the result of an expanding middle and upper class. If so, potential demand may outstrip new supply by 2016. Given current economic conditions, however, companies will continue to exercise caution in planning and building new capacity, particularly with instability in both naphtha and butadiene pricing.
Global butadiene demand is expected to be flat to slightly improving through 2012, as a result of concerns about the ongoing euro crisis and slower Chinese consumption. Global butadiene demand will grow at a rate of about 4% per year to 2016 on derivatives expansion and improving economic activity.