Polyphenylene Ether Resins and Alloys
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Published: June 2010
Polyphenylene ether (PPE) resins are relatively nonpolar, amorphous resins with low moisture absorption, good strength and high heat-resistance properties. Practically all PPE is alloyed with high-impact polystyrene (HIPS) or nylon to produce economical blends that compete for use with polycarbonate (PC), polybutylene terephthalate (PBT), and other engineering thermoplastics. The average PPE content of alloys is about 45%.
Production of vehicles dropped significantly in the U.S. in 2009, which curtailed consumption of PPE in automotive applications. The switch to metal body panels and discontinuation of certain automotive lines also negatively impacted use in the U.S. Also, use of PPE alloys remains vulnerable to replacement with other plastics, especially less expensive ABS and PC/ABS alloys. In the United States and Western Europe, demand in the other major markets for PPE alloys, electrical/electronics and business machines, declined significantly in the 2000s as production migrated to other countries, mainly in Asia. There will be some growth in these regions as the economies recover from 2009.
Since 2006, Japanese consumption has decreased significantly as many industries producing electrical/electronic goods and business machines moved to other Asian countries, particularly China. Moreover, the worldwide economic recession beginning in 2007 negatively affected the automotive and electrical/electronics industries.
In China, m-PPE compounds are used in automotive, business machine and electrical/electronic applications. Over 50% of PPE alloy consumption in the Republic of Korea and Taiwan is for business machines and for trays used to transport integrated circuits. Consumption in Malaysia has grown as a result of the shifting of some manufacturing facilities from Singapore. Consumption in Thailand has grown recently because of a shift of end-user production sites from Japan, Taiwan and the Republic of Korea.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of PPE alloys:
The major global supplier of PPE resins and alloys is SABIC Innovative Plastics, which is the only producer in North America and Europe. SABIC’s product is a homopolymer of phenylene ether trademarked PPO®. Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC) also operates compounding operations in Japan, China, the Republic of Korea and Thailand, where it produces PPO alloys by blending imported PPO with HIPS or nylon.
In 2007–2008, the economic recession adversely affected demand for plastics end uses. Outside of Japan, there was some recovery of the Asian economy in 2009. World demand is expected to grow around 5% per year in the 2009–2014 time period. However, the growth rate for PPE alloys is expected to be lower than those for other engineering plastics, as the prices of polycarbonates and other resins are expected to fall as a result of greater supply.