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Published: January 2013
Plasticizers are organic esters added to polymers to facilitate processing and to increase the flexibility and toughness of the final product by internal modification of the polymer molecule. Flexible polyvinyl chloride (PVC) accounts for 80–90% of world plasticizer consumption.
Plasticizers are grouped into the following categories: phthalates, aliphatics (mainly adipates and hydrogenated phthalates), epoxy, terephthalates, trimellitates, polymerics, phosphates and others. Phthalic acid esters, generally known as phthalate plasticizers, are by far the predominant type of plasticizer produced and consumed in the world.
Phthalates accounted for just over 78% of the world consumption of plasticizers in 2012, down from approximately 88% in 2005; they are forecast to account for 75.5% of world consumption in 2018.
China is the single-largest plasticizer market in the world, accounting for nearly 38% of world consumption in 2012; it also has the highest forecast consumption growth rate during 2011–2018, spurred by increased plasticizer consumption in goods for both domestic and export markets. Other Asian countries taken together, and including Japan, constitute the second-largest plasticizer consuming region, with nearly 21% in 2012, followed by Western Europe (16.0%) and North America (about 13%). Demand for plasticizers in North America is expected to grow at a moderate rate (2.2% per year) during 2011–2018. European demand growth is forecast at an average annual rate of 1.2% during 2011–2018; Western European demand will grow at about 1% while markets in Central and Eastern Europe are expected to grow at a higher rate of 1.9% annually.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of plasticizers:
Demand for most downstream plasticizer markets is greatly influenced by general economic conditions. As a result, demand for plasticizers largely follows the patterns of the leading world economies. The major end-use markets include construction/remodeling, automotive production and original equipment manufacture (OEM). Communication and building wire and cable, film and sheet (calendered and extruded), coated fabrics and dispersions (flooring and other) are the largest markets for plasticizers.
World consumption of phthalate plasticizers is forecast to grow at an average annual rate of 2.4% during 2011–2018. World consumption of lower-molecular-weight phthalates is forecast to decline in many regions as a result of replacement, mostly by nonphthalates.
World consumption of other plasticizers (terephthalates, aliphatics, trimellitates, epoxy, polymerics, benzoates and phosphates) is forecast to grow at an average annual rate of 5.7% during 2011–2018. Terephthalates, benzoates and some aliphatics (mainly hydrogenated phthalates) are forecast to grow at rapid rates as they replace phthalates. Other aliphatic plasticizers, such as citrates and alkane sulfonic esters of phenol, are also expected to grow significantly during 2011–2018, albeit from smaller bases.