Published December 2015
Styrene-butadiene elastomers (SBR) are the largest-volume synthetic rubber in the world. SBR is produced through the copolymerization of butadiene with styrene at a ratio of approximately 3:1. There are two major types of SBR—emulsion and solution. Emulsion SBR (ESBR) continues to lose ground to solution SBR (SSBR), which is better suited to meet the increasingly stringent specifications of high-performance tires. Nevertheless, emulsion SBR grades still account for about 76% of total world capacity as of 2015. However, as most new SBR capacity additions today are based on the solution SBR process, the share of emulsion SBR will likely decrease to about 72% by the end of the forecast period in 2020.
The tire industry is the dominant consumer of SBR, accounting for more than 75–80% of total demand in 2015. Apart from this, SBR is also used in nontire automotive applications, conveyor belts, industrial hoses, various molded and extruded rubber goods, footwear, and other consumer goods. Some grades of SBR, those that are waterproof and free from impurities, are also utilized in the cable industry.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of styrene-butadiene elastomers:
Even though China remains the largest consumer of emulsion SBR, it has exhibited only a comparatively small average annual growth of about 0.6% since 2010. The largest demand growth on a percentage basis was registered in South Korea (6.5%), Taiwan (6.4%), Canada (4.4%), Japan (4.3%), and Africa (4.1%). Decreasing consumption of emulsion SBR was seen in most of the mature markets—the United States, Mexico, Western Europe, and the CIS/Baltic States. Overall, the major consuming regions in 2015 are China (accounting for about 29% of global consumption), the United States (14%), Southeast Asia, and South America.
For 2015, global consumption of solution SBR is estimated to have been about 31% higher than in 2012. Since 2010, total demand for this type of SBR has increased by about 7%. The percentage growth registered for the nameplate capacities in the same time period has been still higher, amounting to about 10% annually; this widened the gap between supply (capacity) and actual demand during 2010 to 2015. By far the largest capacity additions have been seen in Southeast Asia (Singapore and Thailand), South Korea, and China, which together accounted for about 64% of the total increase. With a comparatively large average annual growth rate of about 18.5% annually registered for domestic demand in the last five years, China has become by far the largest consumer of solution SBR, surpassing Western Europe and Japan, and is assumed to account for about 24% of the global demand in 2015. Only demand in Taiwan and the CIS/Baltic States has increased at even higher annual rates (27% and 23%, respectively), while declining consumption levels were seen in Mexico and Japan.
Considering the large amount of SBR that is being consumed in the manufacture of tires and tire products, demand is very much dependent on the automotive industry and tire sectors as a whole. On a positive note, growing use of low-rolling-resistance tires to reduce fuel consumption and decrease CO2 emissions should increase SBR demand. Since these performance improvements cannot be achieved with emulsion SBR, the trend is toward increasing use of solution SBR, which is reflected in a comparably healthy estimated average growth rate of 4.7% per year over the next five years. In comparison, emulsion SBR is anticipated to grow at only about 3% annually, on average, in the same time period.
While the highest average annual growth rates are projected to be registered for some of the smaller markets—the CIS/Baltic States (about 19.5%) and Africa (about 9.5%)—the largest increases in consumption levels will likely be seen in Asian markets, including the Indian Subcontinent (about 6.5%), Southeast Asia (3.0%), South Korea (2.8%), and China (2.5%). Rather limited or even slightly negative demand growth is forecast for some of the mature markets such as Western Europe, Canada, and Japan.