Polyether Polyols for Urethanes
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Published: August 2012
Most polyether polyols are produced for polyurethane applications; however, other end uses range from synthetic lubricants and functional fluids to surface-active agents. By selecting the proper oxide (or oxides), initiator, and reaction conditions and catalysts, it is possible to synthesize a series of polyether polyols that range from low-molecular-weight polyglycols to high-molecular-weight resins.
During 2008–2011, global polyether polyols markets were significantly affected by the economic crisis in 2008/2009. The crisis, which started as a real estate and financial crisis in the United States, brought the overall world economy into recession in 2008/2009. The heaviest impacts were seen in the most developed (and also the most vulnerable) industries of North America, Europe and Japan. In other world regions, such as the Middle East and Africa and in much of emerging Asia, polyether polyol growth did slow in 2008 but did not decline.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of polyether polyols for urethanes:
The polyether polyol industry is concentrated, although less so than the isocyanates industry, which tends to have more sophisticated manufacturing processes and greater capital costs. In the United States, the five largest producers represent 89% of total capacity, and in Western Europe, Japan and China, the five largest companies account for 93%, 85% and 55% of capacity, respectively.
The polyether polyol business is also global. Dow Chemical is the largest worldwide producer of polyether polyols, with the largest number of plants and largest capacities in the greatest number of countries. Bayer is the second-largest producer, with plants in the United States, Europe, Latin America and Asia. Other worldwide producers are BASF and Shell.
Based on underlying macroeconomic factors, it is expected that the global polyether polyols market will grow at a slower pace in 2012 and even decline in some countries/regions. The largest growth markets for polyether polyols will continue to be East Asia (excluding Japan, the Republic of Korea and Taiwan) and the Middle East, Africa and Latin America.