Taking a closer Look at
the Methacrylates Markets
AS PART OF LUCITE INTERNATIONAL’S COMMITMENT TO CUSTOMERS IN THE METHACRYLATE MONOMERS MERCHANT MARKET WE SHARE WITH YOU OUR VIEWS OF CURRENT DYNAMICS. LOCAL KNOWLEDGE COMBINED WITH OUR GLOBAL OPERATIONS, BACKED BY WORLD-CLASS SYSTEMS HELP TO ENSURE THE ACCURACY OF THIS INFORMATION, WHICH WE PUBLISH REGULARLY BOTH ON LINE AND FREEFLOW MAGAZINE
Report by: Malcolm Kidd, Commercial Director for Methacrylate Monomers EMEA. April 2014.
EMEA demand pattern becomes clearer
Overall, market demand across the region continues to move forward, building on what proved to be a decent year in 2013. However, there is quite a spread of market conditions within the EMEA region. The economy in many Middle East countries continues to forge ahead with high levels of construction requiring methacrylate-based products. Turkey and South Africa are performing steadily despite the recent challenges to their currencies, and the UK and northern Europe in general are showing a slower but continuous upward trajectory, as a number of countries appear to be putting themselves on a firmer footing. Unfortunately, southern Europe continues to exhibit a high degree of inertia preventing it from regaining previous demand levels.
New business opportunities
The importance of flat screen applications to the MMA / pMMA industry is well known and remains a significant segment for demand, albeit with growth more aligned to GDP. As manufacturers everywhere are seeking ways in which to improve upon lower GDP-based growth, and to differentiate themselves with their product lines, methacrylates and methacrylate-based derivatives and formulations are benefiting. The compatibility of pMMA material with LED lighting is a good example of where there is a huge potential. The use of MMA and MAA in the growing segment of industrial adhesives is another excellent demonstration of the inherent product qualities being used to meet the demands of today’s industry and society. The waterborne revolution in coatings may already have happened to a large extent in Europe, however, there are opportunities to penetrate further with many parts of the EMEA region (and further afield) yet to experience the impact of similar VOC legislation and the solutions that methacrylates can bring. The high cost of styrene is causing some resins manufacturers to re-think formulations given the superior performance of methacrylate-based systems. Manufacturers are also looking to methacrylates as possible alternatives to products that are under pressure from lobby groups, such as Bisphenol A in food contact applications. These are just a few examples that illustrate the widespread use of Methacrylates because of their inherent high-performance properties and it is these characteristics that are making them resilient in the current climate.
Lucite International (LI) capability
Since the last issue of FreeFlow, LI has commissioned the new synthetic HCN / ACH production assets in Beaumont, Texas, USA, which will allow increased MMA production capability at the site. Later this year, LI will increase the capacity of its asset at Caojing, near Shanghai, China. 2014 also sees a major investment programme for LI’s MMA asset in EMEA and other LI assets worldwide; a demonstration of LI’s commitment to all of its capacity and desire to maintain the continuity of supply to our customers.
Raw materials prices continue to provide a challenge and MMA manufacturers are currently operating at margins well below industry norms. As a consequence, we have seen some rationalisation and mothballing of assets over the last year. There will be relatively little investment in new methacrylates capacity in the next couple of years, and occupacity levels will increase as demand continues to improve. In the meantime, MRC is progressing with its methacrylates investment programme and the project to deliver the second Alpha technology plant in Saudi Arabia remains on-track.
The use of MMA and its derivatives continues to be of interest particularly where customers are seeking to produce a high performance product with good sustainability credentials. Looking ahead, the forecast is that demand will continue to grow in the EMEA region through 2014, perhaps at a slower rate than in recent times in some of the more traditional segments, but with a number of higher growth markets and some exciting new application areas opening-up.