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Published: October 2012
The major markets for styrene are
- Acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) and styrene-acrylonitrile (SAN) resins
- Styrene-butadiene (S/B) copolymer latexes
- Unsaturated polyester resins
- SBR elastomers and latexes
Styrene demand remains dominated by its main derivative, polystyrene (59.5%), which has reached maturity in most developed countries. Other styrene consumption is accounted for by the production of ABS/SAN (about 17%), S/B copolymer latexes (5%) and unsaturated polyester, which accounted for an additional 4.6% of world styrene demand, while SBR and SBR latexes production accounted for 3.6% of world demand.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of styrene:
The volatility in the oil market has strongly impacted benzene prices. In the past few years, benzene (a major precursor in the production of styrene) has become extremely short as a result of high crude oil prices. At times, benzene has even commanded a premium over naphtha prices. Prices for benzene will not be eased by new capacity, as oil companies prefer investing in oil and gas exploration and production, where returns are potentially higher. A cascade effect can be anticipated in the near future for styrene monomer prices. As energy feedstocks, such as oil and naphtha, become more available, prices should drop, lowering the corresponding benzene prices. The growing concentration of the worldwide market shared between two poles—China as a buyer and the Middle East as a seller—also contributes to the increased volatility. The styrene industry is cyclical and is sensitive to changes in the balance between supply and demand, raw material prices and global economic activity.
The fastest styrene demand growth will take place in the Middle East, Central and Eastern Europe, China, and Central and South America. Based on current capacity expansion announcements, the United States, Canada, Japan, Singapore, the Republic of Korea, and the Middle East will remain net exporters, while Mexico, China, India, Thailand and other Asian countries will continue to be net importers. No capacity growth is expected in the United States or Western Europe before 2017, while continued capacity growth in China will gradually shift the global supply closer to demand in Asia, which is expected to account for 60% of global demand in 2017.