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Specialty Chemicals Update Program

Water-Soluble Polymers

Published : Dec 19, 2013

Water-soluble polymers, which perform various useful functions such as thickening, gelling, flocculating, rheology modifying and stabilizing in any given application, are used for a wide variety of applications including food processing, water treatment, paper, enhanced oil and natural gas recovery, mineral processing, detergents, textiles, personal care products, pharmaceuticals, petroleum production, and surface coatings.

Water-soluble polymers can be categorized into the following three groups:

  • Synthetic, which are produced by the polymerization of monomers synthesized from petroleum- or natural gas–derived raw materials
  • Semisynthetic, which are manufactured by chemical derivatization of natural organic materials, generally polysaccharides such as cellulose
  • Natural, including microbial-, plant- and animal-derived materials

Water-soluble polymer demand from U.S. shale gas drilling, especially guar gum demand, has significantly increased in recent years. Guar gum, a guar bean derivative, is a vital component of the fluid used in hydraulic fracturing. During early/mid-2012, guar gum prices significantly increased. Accordingly, guar gum production in India and Pakistan has increased significantly. At the same time, water-soluble polymer alternatives to guar gum have been extensively explored. Thus, the U.S. shale gas industry has had a global impact on the water-soluble polymer industry.

By volume, about 60% of the water-soluble polymers used in 2012 were of synthetic origin, 25% were natural, and 15% were semisynthetic.

The following pie chart shows world consumption of water-soluble polymers:

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:

  • Binding
  • Coagulating
  • Dispersing, suspending, stabilizing
  • Film forming
  • Flocculating
  • Lubrication and friction reduction
  • Rheology modification and control
  • Thickening, gelling

These functions make water-soluble polymers suitable for a wide variety of applications including food processing, water treatment, paper processing, mineral processing, formulation of detergents, textile processing, the manufacture of personal care products, pharmaceuticals, petroleum production, enhanced oil and natural gas recovery, and formulation of surface coatings. These polymers often perform more than one function in any given application.

In terms of gross margins, the pattern for water-soluble polymers has not formed a consistent trend. Most water-soluble polymers excluding natural water-soluble polymers such as vegetable starches continue to remain specialty chemicals requiring technical service. Most manufacturers of water-soluble polymers have provided technical service and product support as part of basic product-for-market-development programs. However, the intensity of technical service has gradually declined because the water-soluble polymer industry has matured. Over the past decade, reduction of production costs has become a key factor in determining profitability as competition from lower-priced imports has sometimes created potentially unprofitable markets, like the commodity chemical market. Rising prices for energy and raw materials are expected to continue over the next five years. Accordingly, reduction of production costs in order to remain competitive and to increase profits will continue to be a key factor in the water-soluble polymer industry.

Continued growth in water-soluble polymers is expected during 2012–2017. In general, demand for 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 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. 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.

Table of Contents

Summary
Consumption
Functions
Status of the industry
Critical factors for success
Overview of the water-soluble polymer industry
North America
Status of the industry
Applications
Adhesives
Coatings
Construction products
Detergents
Food
Mineral processing
Oil field chemicals
Paper
Personal care products
Pharmaceuticals
Polymerization aids
Textiles
Water treatment
Other
Structure of the industry
Mergers and acquisitions
Operating characteristics
Government regulations
Trends and opportunities
Critical factors for success
Western Europe
Status of the industry
Applications
Building products
Detergents
Food
Paper
Water treatment
Structure of the industry
Synthetic water-soluble polymers
Semisynthetic water-soluble polymers
Natural water-soluble polymers (hydrocolloids)
Operating characteristics
Research and development
Manufacturing and technology
Government regulations
Critical factors for success
Japan
Applications
Adhesives
Building products
Coatings
Detergents
Food
Paper
Personal care products and cosmetics
Pharmaceuticals
Textiles
Water treatment
Structure of the industry
Operating characteristics
Research and development
Manufacturing and technology
Marketing
Profitability and cost structure
Trends and opportunities
Critical factors for success
China
Applications
Adhesives
Building products
Coatings
Detergents
Food
Oil field chemicals
Paper
Personal care products
Pharmaceuticals
Polymerization aids
Textiles
Water treatment
Structure of the industry
Operating characteristics
Trends and opportunities
Critical factors for success
Synthetic polymers
Polyacrylamides
Products and functions
Consumption and market segments
World summary
North America
Markets
Market participants
Prices
Critical factors for success
Central and South America
Markets
Market participants
Europe
Western Europe
Markets
Central and Eastern Europe
Market participants
Prices
Future trends and strategic issues
Japan
Markets
Market participants
Prices
Future trends and strategic issues
China
Markets
Market participants
Prices
Other Asia
Polyacrylic acid and copolymers
Products and functions
Consumption and market segments
World summary
North America
Markets
Market participants
Prices
Critical factors for success
Europe
Markets
Market participants
Prices
Japan
Markets
Market participants
Prices
Future trends and strategic issues
China
Markets
Market participants
Prices
Future trends and strategic issues
Other Asia
Polyethylene glycols
Products and functions
Chemical intermediates
Pharmaceuticals and personal care products
Surface-active agents/detergents
Other
Consumption and market segments
World summary
United States
Markets
Market participants
Prices
Future trends and strategic issues
Central and South America
Western Europe
Markets
Market participants
Prices
Future trends and strategic issues
Central and Eastern Europe
Markets
Market participants
Japan
Markets
Market participants
Prices
Future trends and strategic issues
China
Other Asia
Polyvinyl alcohol
Products and functions
Consumption and market segments
World summary
North America
Markets
Market participants
Prices
Critical factors for success
Central and South America
Western Europe
Markets
Market participants
Prices
Central and Eastern Europe
Markets
Market participants
Middle East and Africa
Japan
Markets
Market participants
Prices
Future trends and strategic issues
China
Markets
Market participants
Prices
Other Asia
Polyvinylpyrrolidone
Products and functions
Consumption and market segments
World summary
North America
Markets
Market participants
Prices
Western Europe
Markets
Market participants
Prices
Future trends and strategic issues
Japan
Markets
Market participants
Prices
China
Polyamines and polyethyleneimines
Products and functions
Consumption and market segments
World summary
North America
Markets
Market participants
Prices
Central and South America
Europe
Markets
Market participants
Japan
Markets
Market participants
Prices
Quaternary ammonium polymers
Products and functions
Consumption and market segments
World summary
North America
Markets
Market participants
Prices
Central and South America
Western Europe
Markets
Market participants
Japan
Markets
Market participants
China
Other synthetic water-soluble polymers
Products and functions
Associative thickeners
Carboxypolymethylene (carboxyvinyl polymer)
Polyvinyl methyl ether–maleic anhydride (PVM-MA)
Consumption and market segments
World summary
North America
Markets
Market participants
Western Europe
Markets
Market participants
Japan
Carboxypolymethylene (carboxyvinyl polymer)
Polyvinyl methyl ether–maleic anhydride
Associative thickeners
Semisynthetic polymers
Products and functions
Carboxymethylcellulose
Hydroxyethylcellulose and derivatives
Methylcellulose and derivatives
Other cellulose ethers
Ethylcellulose and ethyl hydroxyethylcellulose
Hydroxypropylcellulose
Industry characteristics
Consumption and markets
World summary
Sodium carboxymethylcellulose
North America
Food
Oil field
Personal care products/pharmaceuticals
Paper
Detergents
Textiles
Other
Central and South America
Western Europe
Technical CMC
Purified CMC
Central and Eastern Europe
Middle East and Africa
Japan
Pharmaceuticals and cosmetics
Construction drilling mud and building materials
Fishery feed binders
Paper
Textiles
Food
Other
China
Other Asia
Methylcellulose and derivatives and other cellulose ethers
North America
Methylcellulose and derivatives
Hydroxyethylcellulose and derivatives
Ethylcellulose and ethyl hydroxyethylcellulose
Hydroxypropylcellulose
Central and South America
Western Europe
Methylcellulose and derivatives
Hydroxyethylcellulose and ethyl hydroxyethylcellulose
Central and Eastern Europe
Middle East and Africa
Japan
Construction products
Pharmaceuticals and personal care products
Other
China
Other Asia
Market participants
North America
Central and South America
Western Europe
Central and Eastern Europe
Middle East and Africa
Japan
China
Other Asia
Prices
United States
Western Europe
Japan
China
Future trends and strategic issues
United States
Western Europe
Japan
Other Asia
Natural water-soluble polymers
Products and functions
Fruit extract (pectin)
Grain and root (starch and starch derivatives)
Microbial fermentation
Curdlan, pullulan and gellan gum
Xanthan gum
Milk protein (casein and caseinates)
Seaweed extracts
Agar
Alginates
Carrageenan
Seed extracts
Guar gum and derivatives
Locust bean gum
Skin and bones (gelatin)
Tree and shrub exudates
Consumption and market segments
World summary
North America
Markets
Starches
Agar
Alginates
Carrageenan
Casein
Gelatin
Guar gum and derivatives
Gum arabic and other tree and shrub exudates
Pectin
Xanthan gum
Market participants
Prices
Trends, issues and opportunities
Critical factors for success
Central and South America
Western Europe
Overview
Animal feed
Cosmetics industry
Food industry
Paper manufacturing
Other industrial uses
Consumption and markets
Starches
Specialty hydrocolloids
Market participants
Starches
Specialty hydrocolloids
Prices
Future trends and strategic issues
Critical factors for success
Central and Eastern Europe
Consumption and markets
Market participants
Japan
Markets
Starch
Agar
Alginates
Carrageenan
Casein
Gelatin
Guar gum
Gum arabic
Locust bean gum
Pectin
Xanthan
Other miscellaneous polymers
Market participants
Starch and its derivatives
Other
Prices
Future trends and strategic issues
Critical factors for success
China
Starch
Gelatin
Xanthan
Other
India
Other Asia
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