Published April 2015
Before 2008, most of the glycerin consumed globally was refined (this continues to hold true for all glycerin from oleochemical and soap production). However, as a result of the significant increases in biodiesel production, crude glycerin has become abundant and an oversupply led to an increased amount of glycerin consumed as crude (especially in 2010). Crude glycerin has some lower-value use in animal feed, although this is expected to decline and give way to higher-value refined glycerin uses. New applications such as coal deicing, dust suppression, and grain storage absorbed part of the crude glycerin supply during 2012–14, although these are still low-value markets. Newer applications for refined glycerin, including production of propylene glycol and epichlorohydrin, and recreational vehicle fluid applications, will lead to more crude glycerin being refined. Both economics and the level of future crude glycerin supply under the biodiesel policies are crucial to refiners’ investment decisions.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of refined glycerin:
Asian consumption of refined glycerin in 2014 accounted for almost 40% of the world total. The region was led by Chinese consumption. China will drive world consumption with very high growth rates as a result of the further expansion of glycerin-to-epichlorohydrin production. Growth in glycerin demand in polyether polyol production and pharmaceutical uses will also make a relatively big contribution to the glycerin consumption increase.
Thailand will also experience high growth rates as a result of epichlorohydrin production. Both Indonesia and Malaysia will continue to export large amounts of refined glycerin. Japanese refined glycerin consumption is expected to remain about the same in the next several years.
By end use, traditional markets account for half of refined glycerin consumption. Personal and oral care products are the largest refined glycerin market in the world, with about 29% of total consumption. This includes personal care items such as cosmetics and detergents, and oral care products such as toothpaste and mouthwash. This is followed by food and beverage consumption, with over 12% of the total refined glycerin market, and pharmaceuticals, with over 9% of the total.
In general, the markets listed above are expected to increase in volume usage over the next few years, but will decrease as a percentage of the overall refined glycerin consumption total. The same is true for smaller applications such as alkyd resins, polyether polyols, and tobacco. Refined glycerin use for most of these market segments is expected to grow at about 3-4% per year.
The highest growth for refined glycerin will be in chemical production and “newer” uses, which will drive overall consumption growth. Refined glycerin consumption for epichlorohydrin production will increase from 11% of total use in 2014 to 13% of total refined glycerin demand in 2019. This use will grow in Asia and Europe.
Crude glycerin supply is now greatly dependent on biodiesel production, and is expected to fluctuate due to an increasingly uncertain market for biodiesel. Issues pertaining to industry subsidies, rebates, sustainability, and government legislation mandating biodiesel consumption are still being discussed in many regions. The outcome of these discussions will likely affect the profitability of the biodiesel markets and whether it can survive with no or minimal support from governments. Additionally, demand for biodiesel is affected by prices for diesel and the cost of oils/fats feedstocks. Although it is expected that crude glycerin volumes for further refining will increase, erratic supplies could hamper development and allow for unacceptable price fluctuations, leading to some replacement of refined glycerin by other products such as sorbitol or propylene glycol. When glycerin prices are low, it can be used preferentially in some end uses over competing products (e.g., ethylene glycol, pentaerythritol, or sorbitol).