Published September 2014
Isoprene is a colorless, volatile liquid, insoluble in water, and soluble in alcohol, ether and hydrocarbon solvents. It is produced and sold in differing concentrations. The major applications include use as a monomer for the manufacture of polyisoprene rubber, styrene-isoprene-styrene block copolymers (SIS) and butyl rubber. The main focus of this report is on high-purity and polymer-grade isoprene.
Russia continues to dominate the world market in terms of high-purity isoprene capacity, production and consumption. The three major producers of isoprene in Russia are Nizhnekamskneftekhim, Synthez-Kauchuk and Togliattikauchuk (a Sibur company). Nizhnekamskneftekhim is the world’s largest isoprene producer.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of high-purity isoprene:
Russia and the United States accounted for two-thirds of the total world consumption of isoprene in 2013. Their share will decline as China and Other Asia increase their consumption of isoprene by 2018.
High-purity isoprene is used almost entirely (90–93%) as a monomer for production of polyisoprene rubber, styrenic thermoplastic elastomer block copolymers (styrene-isoprene-styrene) and butyl rubber. Considerably smaller amounts of isoprene are converted as an intermediate into specialty chemicals, including vitamins, pharmaceuticals, flavorings and perfumes, and epoxy hardeners.
Nearly 70% of the world consumption of isoprene was for polyisoprene rubber production in 2013. Polyisoprene rubber’s main end use is in tires. Isoprene’s next-largest area of consumption is for SIS block copolymers, which are used primarily in adhesives; this end use accounted for close to 20% of total world consumption of isoprene in 2013. Butyl rubber, mainly for tires and tubes, represented the third-largest end use for isoprene, accounting for 4% of world consumption that year.
In the last five years, China, from a very small capacity base, has ramped up isoprene capacity significantly, although operating rates remained low in 2013. Since the major outlet for Chinese isoprene monomer is polyisoprene rubber, the low 2013–2014 price of natural rubber has slowed consumption growth for polyisoprene rubber.