Published April 2015
Nearly all ethylbenzene produced in the world is used in the manufacture of styrene; therefore, ethylbenzene demand is determined primarily by styrene production. Styrene is used mostly in polymer production for polystyrene, acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) and styrene-acrylonitrile (SAN) resins, styrene-butadiene elastomers and latexes, and unsaturated polyester resins. The major styrene industry markets include packaging, electrical/electronic/appliances, construction, and consumer products. Consumption of ethylbenzene for uses other than the production of styrene is estimated to be less than 1%. These applications include use as a solvent and, on occasion, in the production of diethylbenzene, acetophenone, and ethyl anthraquinone.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of ethylbenzene:
All styrene producers in the United States have captive ethylbenzene capacity. In addition, small quantities of ethylbenzene are occasionally sold to the solvent market by styrene producers; ethylbenzene merchant sales generally account for only a small percentage of total production. Total US ethylbenzene production in 2014 represented an 87% capacity utilization rate.
Shale gas has impacted the styrene market over the past few years by lowering both energy and ethylene costs compared with other regions, thus putting the United States in a more competitive position in the styrene industry.
In the last five years, South America has experienced low operating rates for ethylbenzene as a result of weak demand and increasing styrene imports.
The region is a net importer of styrene, mostly from the United States. South America has the natural resources, a growing petrochemical sector, and a desire to create local employment; however, with naphtha-based crackers, local styrene is not as competitive as North American styrene and so the demand for ethylbenzene has been slow to develop.
Western Europe accounted for about 16% of the global capacity for ethylbenzene in 2014. However, with no capacity expansions expected through the forecast period but with new capacity coming onstream in China, the regions share is expected to decrease to about 14% by 2019.
Demand for styrene in the Middle East comes from the Arab Gulf region, Turkey, Northeast Asia, and Western Europe. Given its lower cost of production, because of the competitive advantage resulting from the combination of low-cost ethylene and crackers based on natural gas feedstocks, the regions styrene exports can competitively supply some of the Northeast Asian market and Western Europe.
With no styrene producers in India, there is no demand for ethylbenzene. However, styrene is consumed for polystyrene production. During 2014, about 59% of imported styrene was consumed for general-purpose polystyrene, 12% for EPS, and 9% for ABS resin. Demand for styrene is driven by India (88%) and Pakistan (12%).
Ethylbenzene consumption for the production of styrene in China is expected to grow at just over 9% per year from 2014 through 2019. This rate of growth is slower than that of the last five years (at about 13% during 2009-14), but higher than the last two years. Slower growth in 2014 was a consequence of the stagnating Chinese economy, following tighter financial controls and a slowdown in the construction sector, which especially affected the expanded polystyrene market, a major downstream demand driver for ethylbenzene/styrene.
World ethylbenzene consumption will increase at an average annual rate of 2.1% for the next five years to 2019. The fastest consumption growth is expected in China.