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Published: December 2010
Overall, modest growth in the consumption of water-soluble polymers is expected to continue through 2014, characterized by (1) minor displacement of semisynthetic polymers by natural polymers, particularly in food applications, (2) generally slower growth in consumption for nonfood applications, and (3) minor product innovations that will create new applications in existing market segments. Aggregate volume consumption of these polymers will increase at an average annual rate of 3.0–4.0%.
The water-soluble polymer industry is mature. However, with the exception of vegetable starches, casein, and gelatin, most water-soluble polymers continue to remain specialty chemicals—priced at more than $2.50 per kilogram, requiring technical service, and providing relatively high gross margins compared with commodity chemicals.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of water-soluble polymers:
Water-soluble polymers are used primarily to disperse, suspend (thicken and gel), or stabilize particulate matter. However, they may perform any of the following functions:
- Dispersing, suspending, stabilizing
- Film forming
- Lubrication and friction reduction
- Rheology modification and control
- Thickening, gelling
These functions make water-soluble polymers suitable for a wide variety of applications including water treatment, paper processing, mineral processing, formulation of detergents, textile processing, the manufacture of personal care products, pharmaceuticals, petroleum production, enhanced oil recovery and formulation of surface coatings. These polymers often perform more than one function in any given application.
The market for many water-soluble polymers is dominated by a single manufacturer. Even for polymers with several producers, regional dominance by one or a very small number of producers is the rule in the water-soluble polymer industry worldwide.
Demand for many water-soluble polymers is growing at rates near or slightly higher than the gross domestic product (GDP), particularly in regions with expanding manufacturing sectors of the economy, as opposed to expanding service sectors. As manufacturing increasingly shifts from the United States, Western Europe and Japan to other regions such as Southeast Asia and China, the world's highest growth is migrating to these regions as well, particularly in segments such as adhesives, building products, paper, textiles and water treatment. Increasing per capita consumption in economies with rapidly rising GDP such as China and Southeast Asia will also drive increased demand in segments such as food, personal care products and pharmaceuticals.