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Published: March 2013
Propionic acid (CH3CH2COOH) is a colorless liquid with a boiling point of 141°C, which has a pungent, rancid-type odor. It occurs naturally in the form of esters in essential oils and in mammals as a metabolic intermediate. Major applications include animal feed and grain preservation, and mold inhibition in human foods, mainly in baked goods and cheeses. Propionic acid is also used as a synthetic intermediate in the manufacture of herbicides and pharmaceuticals, cellulose acetate propionate (CAP) plastics, in alkyl propionate esters for solvents, and in flavors and fragrances.
Preservation of animal feed, grain and food (calcium and sodium propionates) accounted for 78.5% of world propionic acid consumption in 2012, followed by various herbicides and diethyl ketone. Other smaller-volume applications include cellulose acetate propionate; pharmaceuticals; solvent esters; flavors and fragrances; plasticizers; dyes; and textile, leather and rubber auxiliaries. Demand for propionic acid is largely dependent on production of animal feed and grain, followed by packaged food and bakery products. World growth prospects for propionic acid and its salts in animal feed/grain preservation and food are significant.
Other fast-growing markets include propionate esters for solvents, such as n-butyl and pentyl propionate; these esters are increasingly being used as replacements for solvents listed as hazardous air pollutants.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of propionic acid:
Growth in demand during 2012-2018 will be highest in the developing markets of Asia, Africa, Central and South America, Central and Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Most volume growth during 2012-2018 will occur in Western Europe, North America and Asia.