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Published: January 2013
Toluene is an aromatic compound used in the manufacture of benzene, p-xylene for polyethylene terephthalate (PET) solid-state resins, and toluene diisocyanates (TDI) for polyurethane applications, and it is widely used as a solvent.
Throughout the world, consumption in virtually every region was negatively impacted by the economic recession in 2008 and/or 2009. The developed regions (North America and Western Europe) declined 8% and 17%, respectively. However, three regions increased their production of toluene over the same time frame—the Middle East, Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia. Since 2010, most regions have experienced growth. The fastest growing regions are Africa, the Indian Subcontinent and Northeast Asia.
However, demand in developing regions such as China, Thailand and the Middle East saw continued growth during this period. As global economies begin to slowly recover, toluene markets are anticipated to improve.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of toluene:
Since 2009, world toluene demand has been growing, and the demand level in 2012 was above the peak seen in 2007. This should not be too surprising, considering that about half of all toluene is used to make on-purpose benzene, mixed xylenes and para-xylene.
Toluene into the solvents market was basically flat in 2012 with little economic stimulus in many regions. There is an inherent value in toluene's use in the gasoline pool both to build octane and to reduce the vapor pressure. This is especially true when ethanol, which although high in octane has a high vapor pressure, is being blended into gasoline. Nonetheless, demand for toluene blending into the gasoline pool is a function of supply, as the reformers need to operate at reasonable rates.
TDI production is the second-largest single-derivative market for toluene, accounting for 7% of world demand in 2012. Continued investments in developing countries and anticipated recovery in global markets will result in an average annual growth in demand for TDI of 5.2% per year, with double-digit growth anticipated in China, India and Taiwan.
Estimates suggest that global toluene demand grew by 5.3% in 2012, with Northeast Asia being the largest market at just over 46% of world demand. The world toluene petrochemical market slightly exceeded the previously highest level, attained in 2007.
Demand growth in solvents is anticipated over the forecast period but will be restricted primarily to developing regions.