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Published: January 2013
Polycarbonate resins are tough thermoplastics usually derived from bisphenol A and phosgene. Polycarbonate resin was commercialized in the early 1960s and is now the second-largest-volume engineering resin produced, following crystalline nylon. Polycarbonate is an amorphous, very clear polymer with exceptionally high levels of impact strength and ductility, as well as inherent fire resistance and useful engineering properties over a wide temperature range. It has good resistance to UV light, although it has a tendency to yellow with long exposure. UV stabilizers have overcome this problem to some extent. Polycarbonate has very good resistance to aqueous solutions of organic and inorganic acids, salts and oxidizing agents, but limited resistance to organic solvents.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of polycarbonate resins:
The global polycarbonate industry is dominated by two producers whose capacities accounted for 51% of world capacity—Bayer (Bayer MaterialScience) and SABIC Innovative Plastics—followed by three other major companies who accounted for 25% of world capacity in 2012—the Mitsubishi group of companies (Mitsubishi Chemical, Mitsubishi Gas Chemical and Mitsubishi Engineering Plastics), Teijin and Styron.
The largest markets for polycarbonate resins are electrical/electronic (including computer and business equipment and optical discs), glazing and sheet usage, and the automotive industry. The United States, Western Europe, Japan and China represent about two-thirds of global consumption.
Consumption in most countries/regions is not dominated by any single application. However, the largest market varies—in the United States, automotive/transportation amounts to 24%; in Western Europe, sheet and film (used in building and construction) totals 25%; in China the electronic/electrical market is 30% of the market; and the electronic/electrical market is the largest in Japan with 27% of the market.
High barriers to entry into the polycarbonate resin business will persist because of the requirement for large initial investment, access to technological licensing, possible start-up difficulties, and the establishment of efficient and effective marketing. Competition from resins such as polypropylene, polystyrene, ABS and copolyesters, as well as from blends that do not contain polycarbonate, will grow.
There will be a continuing need to develop improved polycarbonate resins for the growing medical/ophthalmic applications and growing optical lens markets, including digital camera lenses and other uses requiring a high refractive index and low birefringence.
Forecast growth rates for consumption of polycarbonate vary widely by region but the global consumption growth rate will average about 4% during 2012–2017. The fastest growth will be in Asia (including 4.9% for China and 8.0% for India), averaging 4.7% per year during 2012–2017, followed by North America with 3.0%, Central and South America also at about 3.0%, and EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) at about 2.5%.