Published November 2016
About 97% of the world's acetone production is as a by-product of phenol production. Therefore, a lot of the trends in the phenol industry also apply to acetone. The global acetone industry is driven by the solvents sector, which represents 34% of global demand, and in 2016, 42% of the global demand for solvents came from Northeast Asia. Global solvent demand from acetone will continue to maintain a healthy growth rate of 3.7% to 2021. Methyl methacrylate (MMA) is the second-largest end use for acetone. In 2016, global demand for MMA resin accounted for 26% of total acetone consumption. Bisphenol A is the third-largest demand sector. However, by the end of the forecast period, bisphenol A demand will exceed that of MMA, growing at 3.3% per year over the next five years to 2021.
Acetone (dimethyl ketone, 2-propanone, CH3COCH3) is a clear, colorless, volatile liquid with a sweet odor. It is both the simplest aliphatic ketone and the most commercially important. Nearly all world production of acetone is via cumene peroxidation, as a coproduct with phenol. Its main chemical use is as an intermediate in the manufacture of acetone cyanohydrin for methyl methacrylate (MMA), bisphenol A (BPA), and aldehyde and alcohol (aldol) chemicals. Direct solvent applications account for a large portion of world demand.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of acetone:
For several reasons, acetone supply tends to be in excess globally. For roughly every two units of phenol produced, one unit of acetone is produced. While bisphenol A has been one of the better-performing derivatives, it consumes a higher phenol ratio at three parts to phenol to one part acetone. In turn, strong bisphenol A demand will lead to a longer acetone market. Secondly, MMA is another important acetone derivative and MMA technologies have been shifting. As capacity is built to meet increasing demand, some of the new capacity is based on nonacetone routes, such as units that can consume ethylene and methanol. Both of these feedstocks can be produced at very low cost, if natural gas is available at the low prices seen previously in the Middle East and now in the United States.
In 2016, worldwide demand for acetone is led by China (23%), the United States (21%), and Western Europe (20%). Solvents are the largest end use, and are used in products such as nail polish removers, cement, lacquers and finishes, cleaners, paint, coatings, films, and adhesives. Pharmaceuticals are also an important consumer of acetone solvent, with large quantities being used in glass-reinforced plastics, rubber chemicals, and household, cosmetic, and personal care products. The solvents sector is usually the last place acetone ends up, and then only if it cannot be sold into the other higher-value applications. Solvents are expected to be one of the faster growing markets, increasing at an average rate of 3.7% per year over the next five years.
MMA is currently the second-largest market for acetone. The largest end use for MMA is PMMA (polymethyl methacrylate). PMMA resins are used to produce acrylic sheet (cast and extruded) and acrylic molding and extrusion compounds. Commercial, residential, and nonresidential construction, and remodeling are the largest markets for acrylic sheet. Other markets include vehicles, aircraft, and marine equipment. Automotive parts and medical devices are the largest applications for MMA in molding and extrusion compounds. MMA is expected to see the slowest growth over the next five years, increasing at an average rate of 0.9% per year through the forecast period.
Bisphenol A is the third-largest end use for acetone globally in 2016. Bisphenol A is a raw material for the production of epoxy and polycarbonate resins. Polycarbonate has driven most of the growth for applications in optical media (CDs and DVDs), and the electrical and electronic (insulators, connectors, and housings) and automotive sectors. However, as new technology has been developed, and movies and music are increasingly streamed from the internet, the optical media market has stopped growing. The construction, automotive, and computer segments are now seen as key growth markets by polycarbonate manufacturers. Polycarbonate demand is expected to increase by 3% per year through the forecast period, which will continue to help drive BPA growth. Over the next five years, acetone consumption for bisphenol A will grow at a rate of 3.3% per year.
Acetone's largest demand region is Northeast Asia, following the phenol trend. From 2011 to 2016, Northeast Asian domestic acetone demand grew at an average annual rate of about 3% since 2011, and is expected to grow at an average annual rate of about 3.5% by 2021. In the past five years, growth in the other larger regions of North America and Western Europe has been difficult to achieve; however, both will start to see slow growth during the next five years. South America will continue to see a slow decline from a very low base, with many things dependent on political issues in Brazil. The Middle East will have strong demand growth, driven primarily by BPA, which will be intended for export to other regions. The Indian Subcontinent will see the fastest growth over the next five years, although from a low base, growing at an average annual rate of 12.6% through the end of the forecast period.
All end uses are predicted to see a positive growth rate over the forecast period. Global acetone demand will continue to improve as a whole, growing at an average annual rate of 2.8% through the forecast period, compared with the 1.9% rate over the last five years.