Published February 2014
Because of its inertness, ethyl ether is used as a reaction or extraction medium in the chemical, fragrance and pharmaceutical industries. It is an excellent solvent for waxes, resins and gums. As an extraction medium, it is used to extract acetic and organic acids from aqueous systems in the cellulose acetate and plastics industry. In the industrial and automotive sector, ethyl ether has varied applications such as use as an octane and oxygen enhancer in gasoline, diesel starting fluid, lubricating oil, plasticizers and vehicles for products, and removal of paints and varnishes. When combined with ethanol, ethyl ether finds use as a solvent for cellulose nitrate in guncotton manufacture and pyroxylin plastics.
The United States is a leading producer of ethyl ether accounting for about 88% of production in all of North and South America in 2013. Production of ethyl ether in Mexico, Argentina and Brazil is minor, while Canada imports its ethyl ether from the United States.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of ethyl ether:
The main applications in the United States continue to be for use as engine starting fluids and for smokeless gunpowder, which together account for more than two-thirds of consumption. However, limited growth is expected in these areas. Relatively stronger growth will occur for laboratory and industrial reagent use, which currently accounts for 25% of domestic ethyl ether use. Overall, consumption of ethyl ether in North and South America is expected to grow slightly at 2% annually during 2013–2018.
Consumption of ethyl ether in Western Europe is expected to grow slowly during 2013–2018, with demand being steady for chemical synthesis and military applications. Growth in consumption in other regions will vary from negative (about –1% per year) in Africa, to moderate (about 2% per year) in Central and Eastern Europe, to high (nearly 5% per year) in the Middle East, albeit from minor volumes of about or less than one thousand metric tons in each region.
Demand for ethyl ether in Asia is expected to increase, but at variable rates, from no growth to average annual growth of as much as 4.5% during 2013–2018, driven mainly by the increasing demand in India. Demand growth will be strong in China. The ethyl ether market in Japan, the third-largest consumer in Asia, will stagnate. Overall, global demand for ethyl ether is expected to increase by 2.4% annually for the next five years.