Published April 2014
Propylene glycol is a colorless, viscous, hygroscopic liquid with a low degree of toxicity. Propylene glycol, dipropylene glycol and higher glycols are produced commercially from propylene oxide. Propylene glycol is used in a wide variety of applications, including unsaturated polyester resins, cosmetics and personal care products, functional fluids and antifreezes, liquid detergents, and dog food. Dipropylene glycol is used in unsaturated polyester resins, plasticizers and personal care applications. Tripropylene glycol is used in polyurethanes and acrylates.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of propylene glycols:
Unsaturated polyester resins remain the largest end use for propylene glycol in the world, especially in Central and Eastern Europe and China. This market segment accounted for 38% of the consumption in the major world regions in 2013. Demand for unsaturated polyester resins is heavily influenced by regional construction industry trends and the overall health of local economies. Unsaturated polyester resins are consumed primarily in the construction, marine and transportation industries, for which the economy is the driving force.
The antifreeze market, which includes engine coolants, has increased its use of propylene glycol, although it accounts for a small percentage of the total worldwide market. In North America, although marketers have touted environmental and safety concerns, there has not been a significant penetration of propylene glycol into this market. Another important application in North America and Western Europe is use as a solvent for liquid detergents.
Many additional smaller uses for propylene glycol will show varying degrees of growth. In the United States, the markets exhibiting the greatest growth potential are functional fluids and personal care products. Growth prospects in Western Europe appear strong for food, personal care and pharmaceutical usage. The Japanese segment that has the best growth potential is cutting oils for silicon wafer production.
There are huge economic influences on demand in cyclical markets; for example, consumption of propylene glycol for the production of unsaturated polyester resins dropped by 22% per year in the United States and a total of 7% in Western Europe as a result of the declines in the construction and industrial markets during 2008–2009, although production in both regions recovered to some extent during 2010–2011.
The market is consolidating and shifting to China and Other Asian countries (excluding Japan). The market is at continued high risk for consolidation; an increasing number of global players and rationalization of small, older producers/production lines will continue.