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Published: November 2012
Most rubber-processing chemicals are older products and are consumed predominantly in the manufacture of automotive tires. Because of increasing consolidation in the tire industry, the major tire manufacturers are in a strong position to demand low prices for rubber-processing chemicals while still maintaining the demand for high quality, product improvements, efficient delivery and strong technical support. Environmental issues are an ongoing concern that could force producers of rubber-processing chemicals to upgrade manufacturing facilities and develop less hazardous products.
These factors have led to an extended period of low profits in the rubber-processing chemicals industry. The industry response has been global consolidation, to achieve more efficient economies of scale in both manufacturing and business operations. The major international competitors are Chemtura, Eastman Chemical and LANXESS, which are gaining share over smaller, regional producers.
North America, Central and South America, Europe, and Asia (including China, Japan, the Republic of Korea and Taiwan) are believed to account for more than 90% of global rubber-processing chemical consumption.
The following pie chart shows consumption of rubber-processing chemicals by major region:
In 2012, the Chinese economy grew at just over 8% in the first quarter and 7.6% in the second quarter, the lowest growth rates in three years. The country is experiencing a shift from rapid development to a slower development stage, which has been reflected in a slowdown of growth in the rubber and relevant industries as well. But the global rubber industry has shown signs of recovery for rubber production in 2012, and within this environment, China's rubber production is expected to continue at around 7% average annual growth for the next five years.
The North American rubber-processing chemicals market is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 0–2% over the next five years. About 56% of the total market value in 2011 was accounted for by antidegradants (antioxidants, antiozonants and stabilizers). The accelerators group (accelerators, activators and vulcanizing agents) was the next largest (32% of market value), and other rubber-processing chemicals (antiscorch agents, blowing agents, polymerization regulators and shortstops) made up the remaining 12% of market value.
Five companies—Chemtura Corporation, Emerald Performance Materials, Eastman Chemical, LANXESS Corporation and R.T. Vanderbilt Company, Inc.—are estimated to account for more than 70% of the U.S. sales of major rubber-processing chemicals. The major companies spend an estimated 4–5% of sales on basic and applied research, with somewhat less spent on technical service. The amount spent on discovering and developing completely new chemicals is limited and directed largely to solving major industry problems such as environmental concerns.
European rubber manufacturers have been facing increasing competition with products from emerging markets such as China, which has incited the sector to focus its production on high-tech and sophisticated products. The backward integration displayed (i.e., by some tire manufacturers) has put significant pressure on suppliers of rubber chemicals. Several synthetic rubber producers manufacture some of their own chemicals.
For the past decade, environmental protection issues have represented a major priority of European legislators. R&D activities are driven by two main forces—regulation and increased sophistication at end-user markets. The REACH regulations governing European chemical usage are forcing producers of rubber-processing chemicals to reformulate and develop less hazardous products. The ever-increasing applications demand for higher performance and superior durability of rubber articles requires continuous technical development in the use of chemicals in rubber compounds.
Japanese consumption of rubber-processing chemicals during 2005–2008 grew at an average annual rate of 1.7%; however, the economy slowed in 2009, and tire and rubber consumption decreased. Tire production decreased again in 2011 because tire exports declined as a result of the appreciation of the Japanese yen vs. the U.S. dollar. Tire production is expected to recover gradually. The average annual growth rate between 2011 and 2016 is expected to be 0.5–1%.
In Central and Eastern Europe, the rubber-processing chemicals industry has been developing for the last ten years, but recently at a slower pace than during 2005–2008. Consumption of rubber, particularly natural rubber, grew significantly during the early to mid-2000s, prompting an increase in the use of rubber-processing chemicals and preparations. Since 2007, however, there has been a slowdown in the rubber market in this region.
Global consumption is projected to grow at an average annual rate of 2–4%.