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Published: August 2012
Hydrochloric acid is an integral part of the worldwide chlorine industry. Most of the HCl produced in the United States, Western Europe and Japan is generated as a by-product in the manufacture of a wide variety of organic chemicals via chlorination reactions. This supply depends largely on demand for the primary products. A significant amount of by-product HCl is generated when ethylene dichloride (EDC) is cracked to make vinyl chloride monomer (VCM). This HCl is usually recycled back to the EDC reactor for additional oxychlorination and for the most part does not enter the commercial market. Similarly, most of the HCl generated in the production of chlorinated C1s (primarily methylene chloride and chloroform) is recycled to produce additional methyl chloride.
About 40 processes generate HCl as a coproduct and about 110 chemical manufacturing processes utilize hydrochloric acid as a raw material.
Globally, nearly 67% of all HCl consumption is for the production of EDC, and over 74% is used in the production of organic compounds, most of which is captive consumption. The remaining consumption is in a number of inorganic or merchant applications.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of hydrochloric acid:
With the exception of China and Indonesia, growth in consumption of HCl in Asian countries is small or declining. Canada is projected to have the largest growth at about 10.0% annually during 2011–2018, led by consumption in oil and gas processing and ore/mineral processing, although from a much smaller base. The largest growth rates of higher-consumption regions include the Middle East at 5.5%, Central and South America at 5.4%, Indonesia at 4.3%, Central Europe at about 4.0%, Africa at 3.5% and China at 2.8%.
The chlorine industry, including the production, sale and consumption of derivatives such as hydrochloric acid and anhydrous hydrogen chloride, has been under pressure as a result of evidence that several chlorine-containing products are harmful to the environment, to workers and to the general public. Concern over the depletion of the earth's ozone layer associated with the release of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) into the atmosphere resulted in worldwide agreements at the 1987 Montreal Protocol and subsequent meetings to phase out emissions of ozone depleting compounds. Except for chemical precursor use, production of CFCs, 1,1,1-trichloroethane and carbon tetrachloride was phased out starting in 1996. Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), introduced as alternatives to CFCs, will also be phased out within the next ten years; the timing of the phaseout varies by country. There are no plans to phase out HFCs. All these fluorocarbons generate HCl in their production, thus affecting market supply. Similarly, there is concern for climate change and global warming potential (GWP). As a result, various chemistries will be phased out that have high GWP. For detailed information on legislation affecting the chlorine and fluorocarbons industries, see the CEH Chlorine/Sodium Hydroxide and Fluorocarbons marketing research reports.