The global market for acetaldehyde has been trending downward for the past twenty years as a result of the commercialization of more efficient technologies to produce those products formerly based on acetaldehyde. For example, the production of plasticizer alcohols has totally switched from n-butyraldehyde based on acetaldehyde to the oxonation of propylene, while acetic acid is now made predominantly by the lower-cost methanol carbonylation process.
Acetic acid facilities based on acetaldehyde continue to operate in Asia and South America, although these will eventually be phased out in favor of methanol carbonylation. In addition to these structural changes, acetaldehyde demand has also declined in the last few years because of mature end-use markets and the effects of the economic downturn on these acetaldehyde-derived products.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of acetaldehyde:
Production of pyridine and pyridine bases, pentaerythritol, and acetate esters accounted for 16%, 16%, and 14%, respectively, of 2012 global acetaldehyde consumption. Pyridine and pyridine bases are important raw materials in the production of agricultural chemicals. Pentaerythritol and acetate esters (mainly ethyl acetate, but also some isobutyl acetate) are both used heavily in surface coatings. The other uses of acetaldehyde accounted for the remaining global consumption of acetaldehyde in 2012. This category includes 1,3-butylene glycol, crotonaldehyde and glyoxal, along with some smaller-volume derivatives.
As the chart shows, China is the largest consumer of acetaldehyde in the world, accounting for almost half of global consumption in 2012. Chinese consumption is heavily weighted toward the production of acetic acid. However, the growth of acetaldehyde in this end use will be limited in the future because any new acetic acid plants will be based on the methanol carbonylation process. Other uses such as pyridines and pentaerythritol will grow faster than acetic acid, but the volumes are not large enough to offset the decline in acetic acid. Consequently, overall Chinese acetaldehyde consumption will grow only slightly at 1.6% per year through 2018.
Western Europe is the second-largest consumer of acetaldehyde worldwide after China, accounting for 20% of world consumption in 2012. As with China, the Western European acetaldehyde market is expected to increase only very slightly at 1% per year during 2012–2018.
The US acetaldehyde market will also rise only minimally, at 1–2% per year during 2012–2018. Acetaldehyde is not consumed for acetic acid and the rest of the markets will experience GDP-like growth in the next five years.
In contrast, Japan could very well be the brightest spot for acetaldehyde consumption in the next five years and this hinges upon the on-purpose production of butadiene from acetaldehyde. The supply of butadiene has been volatile in Japan and the rest of Asia because of the limited availability of naphtha feedstock. Typically, butadiene and other C4 hydrocarbons are coproduced when naphtha is used as a feedstock for ethylene manufacture. However, the increased production of natural gas from shale gas, particularly in the United States, has caused many ethylene crackers to switch feedstock from naphtha to ethane, which yields lower volumes of coproduct butadiene and other C4 hydrocarbons. This has spurred the revival of on-purpose production for butadiene and Japan certainly has enough sources of acetaldehyde to support such a project. This new end use should provide a much-needed boost to an otherwise flat acetaldehyde market. If Showa Denko starts up its butadiene plant as scheduled, acetaldehyde consumption in Japan should exhibit close to 4% per year growth through 2018.