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Published: July 2011
Overall, world demand for methanol is projected to grow at an average annual rate of 9.8% from 2010 to 2015, with lower growth expected in the industrialized areas of the world where the markets are mature. China has been the largest methanol consuming country, and will increase its share of world consumption from almost 41% in 2010 to about 54% in 2015. As a reflection of its growth potential, despite its projected growth in methanol capacity, China will not only remain a net importer, but its net imports will increase considerably from 2010 to 2015.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of methanol:
Worldwide, formaldehyde production is the largest consumer of methanol, accounting for almost 27% of world methanol demand in 2010. Demand is driven by the construction industry since formaldehyde is used primarily to produce adhesives for the manufacture of various construction board products. Historically, the major end product has been plywood, but in developed countries, demand is also driven by the expanding use of engineering board products such as OSB (oriented strandboard). These wood composite products require more formaldehyde-based resin per square foot of board than plywood. Demand for formaldehyde is highly dependent on general economic conditions, and, as an example, a slowdown in construction can considerably reduce formaldehyde demand.
In 2010, consumption of methanol into direct fuel applications surpassed methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE) as the second-largest market for methanol, with almost 11% of global methanol demand; by 2015, it is expected to account for 17%, increasing at an average annual rate of just over 20%. This growth will be largely dependent upon development of new applications as well as general economic growth, since most of these applications (such as fuel cells) go into durable goods uses (such as cars), which are directly linked to general economic conditions. Additionally, growth will depend on the price trends for conventional energy uses; with the considerable increase in (conventional) energy prices (since the trough in early 2009), interest in developing methanol as an alternative fuel has once again increased.
Acetic acid/anhydride is the third-largest methanol end use, with just over 10% of the world methanol market in 2010. A major portion of acetic acid is consumed for the production of vinyl acetate monomer (VAM) and thus demand for acetic acid tracks demand for VAM. Acetic acid is also used as a solvent for terephthalic acid production. From 2010 to 2015, total global acetic acid demand will grow at 4.5% per year, while acetic acid demand in the United States is expected to grow at only 1.3% per year during the same period. Methanol consumption in the United States for acetic acid production will actually decline. Globally, methanol consumption for acetic acid production should grow faster (4.8% per year growth) than total acetic acid production (4.5% per year growth) since methanol-based production should grow faster than other (major) production routes.
The fourth-largest market for methanol worldwide is methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE), with almost 10% of world methanol demand in 2010. In the United States, domestic consumption of MTBE increased substantially when the Clean Air Act Amendments (CAAA) of 1990 mandated that oxygenated compounds be added to gasoline as one aspect of a program to alleviate air pollution. The major effect of the CAAA was realized in 1995, when RFG (reformulated gasoline) was required in about one-third of U.S. motor fuels. In the United States, MTBE was the primary oxygenated compound for use in RFG. In recent years, MTBE itself has come under environmental attack, primarily because it has been found in groundwater because of leaking underground gasoline tanks. California—formerly the leading consumer of MTBE—banned the use of MTBE at the end of 2003 and several states followed suit. Methanol consumption for MTBE has been on the decline in the United States since 1999, and since 2006, U.S. consumption of MTBE has been only for export markets or for the export-directed gasoline pool. In other regions of the world, especially where lead compounds are currently used to maintain octane levels, some growth for MTBE is still possible.