Published December 2013
Silicones or polysiloxanes are versatile polymers consisting of an alternating silicon-oxygen backbone, typically with aliphatic or aromatic side groups. Silicones can be classified as fluids, elastomers or resins depending on their molecular weight, the extent of cross-linking, and the type and number of organic groups attached to the silicon atoms.
The start-up of world-scale silicone manufacturing plants in China since the mid-2000s, some as joint ventures with foreign companies such as Dow Corning and Wacker Chemie, has catapulted China into its position as the largest producer of silicones in the world. In 2012, China accounted for almost 40% of the global capacity for silicones.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of silicones:
The dramatic expansion of China's manufacturing sector, coupled with the availability of domestic silicones sources, has boosted growth in consumption. China has become the largest consumer of silicones in the world, surpassing the traditional powerhouses of the United States and Western Europe. In 2002, China accounted for only 7% of global consumption compared with the United States at 30% and Western Europe at 34%. In 2012, China's share of the global market rose to 36%, while the shares of the United States and Western Europe declined to 17% and 23%, respectively.
Between 2002 and 2012, China's silicones market grew at a rapid pace of 25% per year. In fact, it was China's demand that kept the global silicones market from shrinking significantly during the great recession of 2008–2009. Although future growth in consumption is expected to slow somewhat, China's silicones demand is still expected to grow at close to 10% per year, pulling the overall global growth rate close to 6% per year during 2012–2018. Above-average growth may also occur in Central and Eastern Europe, Central and South America, and the Middle East and Africa, although consumption levels in these regions are still fairly low. Consumption in North America and Western Europe is expected to increase at 3–3.5% per year, while Japan's market will grow only slightly.
Silicones possess physical and chemical properties that allow their use in a multitude of applications. During 2012–2018, growth in global demand for silicone fluids is expected to average 4% annually, with cosmetics, toiletries and medicinal/pharmaceutical preparations leading the growth. Silicone elastomer consumption is expected to increase at 7% per year and will be driven by demand from the construction and automotive industries. Silicone resins growth is also dependent primarily on the construction industry and is expected to increase at 3% per year.