Acrylic acid is produced from propylene, which is a co-product of ethylene and gasoline production. Acrylic acid and its major derivatives include butyl acrylate, ethyl hexyl acrylate and SAPs. Derivatives of acrylic acid are used to manufacture various plastics, as well as paints, coatings, adhesives and elastomers.
Super-absorbent polymers are essential in the production of numerous hygiene products that require tremendous absorbency along with material strength and lightweight materials, which include infant diapers, feminine products and adult incontinence products. Additionally, SAPs are used in a variety of industrial applications for treatment of contaminated water, for oil and fuel-spill removal, and soil stabilization.
According to IHS Chemical forecasts, global demand for glacial acrylic acid, the raw material for production of SAP, will grow from 2.5 MMT in 2015, to 3.1 MMT in 2020. Global demand for SAP will grow from 3.1 million metric tons (MMT) in 2015, to 4.3 MMT in 2020.
“We see significant global demand growth for these super-absorbent polymers, and in particular, for baby diapers and incontinence products to support the needs of the infant and elderly populations,” said David Byrne, director, global acrylates and SAP market advisory at IHS Chemical, and lead author of the new monthly report, the IHS Chemical Global Acrylates and SAP Market Advisory Service. “This is really an intriguing story of changing demographics, particularly as it relates to the economic growth, rising incomes and empowerment of women, as well as urbanization and changes in birth rates.”
The IHS Chemical Advisory Service analysis, Byrne said, includes insight on demographics and consumer behavior from the economists at IHS Global Insight.
“We expect demand growth for these SAPs to increase approximately 6 percent to 7 percent per year through 2020,” said Byrne. “We see income levels rising and consumption of these products is expanding, particularly in Asia and in countries such as India, where there are no domestic producers, but the interest is there. India is also interested in higher quality products that come from the international market. That will attract the major players, who wish to serve that market growth.”
Byrne said growth of SAP is stable in more mature markets such as northwest Europe, and demand is relatively flat in North America. First developed in Japan in the mid-1980s, the market for these products is strong, steady and growing globally. Also, these polymers do not experience the seasonal fluctuations of their acrylate cousins in the paints and coatings market.
Global demographic shifts have important effects on consumers markets, and shifting demographic trends will have considerable impact on demand for consumer products made from SAPs in the medium- and long-term, according to IHS Global Insight. For the baby products market, these are the top 10 countries in terms of market potential through 2020: India, China, Nigeria, Pakistan, Indonesia, U.S., Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Brazil.
“Thanks to their huge population base, India and China rank as the top two potential markets for baby products,” said IHS economist Yinbin Li. “China abandoned its ‘one-child’ policy in 2015, and officially adopted a “two-child’ policy, encouraging Chinese couples to have a second child, so we expect a Chinese baby-boom in the next few years. This will significantly stimulate the consumption of baby products in China.”
Other Asian countries, such as Indonesia, Vietnam and Pakistan are also very attractive, based on their baby population growth and household income growth. Additionally, Li said, sub-Saharan countries represent another major growth market for baby products, since the region typically has a high fertility rate and high birthrate, but traditionally the region has also suffered a high rate of newborn deaths. “With medical conditions improving and household incomes increasing, the death-rate in this African region is expected to decrease, which makes the region quite attractive for growth of baby products,” Yi said.
He said improving medical conditions and rising incomes are also helping the elderly populations in many countries to live longer, “which creates a quick-growing market for senior products. South Korea will become a senior society very soon, like Japan. The post-Korean War baby-boomers are wealthy now and in their retirement age,” Yi said.
The senior market, according to analysis from the IHS Global Insight Global Consumer Markets service, is strongest in China, India, U.S., Japan, Germany, Russia, Brazil, Italy, France and the U.K. However, Li said, “some large developing countries, including Mexico and Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia, have large and increasing senior populations and rapidly growing household incomes, which make them a huge potential market for senior consumer products.”
The major manufacturers of these SAP materials include Nippon Shokubai, Evonik, BASF, Sumitomo Seika, SDP Global and LG Chemical, with the first three of these companies delivering more than 50 percent of global SAP capacity.
“Acrylates are key to the production of paints, which are products that are susceptible to seasonal demand,” said Byrne. “Demand for these products is in full swing, as the big-box retailers gear up for consumers’ spring and summer home-repair projects. Growth is highest for these chemicals in Asia, where the housing market and autos markets are growing the fastest.”