China’s Communist Party sets the direction for the country’s economic development through five-year plans. These are more than simply an economic wish list. The party plays a leading role in establishing the foundations and principles of Chinese communism, mapping strategies for economic development, setting growth targets, and launching reform.
The first five-year plan ran from 1953 to 1957, and the one which starts in 2016 is the thirteenth it outlines the direction that the China Polyurethane Industry Association (CPUIA) and the state controlled Chinese polyurethane firms think that the industry should take up to 2020.
The ultimate goal in the plan is that China wants to increase its total PU industry capacity from 10m tonne/year in 2015 to 15m tonne/year by 2020. That would mean its production and sales volume would account for around over 60% of the world total.
Prospects for growth
China is starting from a strong base. In 2014 its PU industry produced 9.6m tonne of product, according to CPUIA, or 40% of the global polyurethane production volume.
Despite the recent decline in demand in China, the five-year plan expects China’s PU consumption to grow by over 8%/year from 2013 to 2018, reaching 13m tonne (including solvents) in 2018. This is shown in Table 1.
This growth will come from a number of different areas, with chemicals and materials technology playing their parts along with machinery developments across the plan’s life time.
For example, the plan suggests that it is likely that Wanhua and Hongguo Polymeric Materials, which were the first Chinese companies to develop their own technology for aliphatic diisocyanates, will expand capacity.
In the TPU sector, the plan foresees, China developing higher end products especially for the medical, auto, construction and food contact materials sectors, the plan said. The CPUIA notes that China has become the world’s largest producing and consuming country for TPU.
Functional polyether polyols are also likely to see developments in low emitting, low odour, low VOC, high flame retardant and biodegradable products, the plan suggests.
Manufacturing safety and the environment are going to be important themes in the next five years. The plan foresees further developments in waterborne PU coatings, adhesives and synthetic leather products. This will be a good way to protect the environment and improve working conditions for many people, the plan said.
Another area where growth is likely to benefit consumers, producers and the environment is in wood-based panels.
The CPUIA said China makes more than half of the world’s wood-based panels and in the future there is a good opening for polyurethane to replace formaldehyde resins.
China is also interested in trying to reduce the volumes of carbon dioxide emitted in the next five years, as it is likely to increase the role of polyurethane insulating panels.
China has the world’s largest building market with 40bn m² floor area across each storey. A further 2bn m² of buildings is added each year.
The CPUIA says about 95% of China’s new buildings are highly energy consuming and if this does not fall, buildings will take up half of China’s energy consumption by 2020.
This is a clear opportunity for the Chinese PU industry, according to the plan. The goal is, by 2020, to finish renovating and improving the energy efficiency of old buildings, and to save 75% energy in new buildings in eastern China and 65% in central and western China, the plan states.
However, the country is very sensitive to the need for polyurethane building insulation to be as flame retarding as possible, the plan said. This has consequences for the types of blowing agents that will be permitted, the plan said.
HFAs are environmental friendly, they cannot be used in panels and spray coatings in construction applications because they have low flame retardant performance, said the plan. China is likely to use water and low-boiling inert hydrocarbons in the future, it suggests.
In addition, the plan says the polyurethane industry and its suppliers need to develop new generation additives, especially stabilisers, flame retardants, catalysts and cross-linking chain extenders that are compatible with new generation blowing agents.
The CPUIA uses the plan to urge the government to issue more supportive policies for highly-insulating polyurethane panels. China is very conscious of the amount of energy which it imports and is taking steps to make its buildings increasingly energy-efficient.
Product by Product
The plan makes a number of recommendations across the industry, sector by sector.
In the rigid sector, the plan foresees the emergence of “several leaders with over 200kT/year rigid foam system capacity and 1m m³/year panel capacity.”
In addition, the plan expects to see a number of commercially viable companies formed using alcoholysis processes and China will develop suitable catalysts and stable processes.
In the flexible foam sector, it expects there will be “several leaders with more than 100kT/year flexible foam systems” by the end of the plan period. The CPUIA adds that “more companies should utilise the capital market and more provincial and national research centres should be set up.”
China will look favourably on technology to develop polyols from carbon dioxide, especially bio-based degradable foams, said the CPUIA. The organisation suggest that such foams could be used in: insulation materials; disposable medical products; and, food contact packaging materials
The CPUIA believes that there is scope for new products in the thermoplastic polyurethane elastomer sector. This is especially true in casting, waterproof and paving materials, the Association said. Goals include to increase the share of products at the top end of markets in TPU and elastane applications.
Target markets are in high-speed railway applications, the automotive and transport sectors, wind power and solar photo-voltaic applications.
Also in the TPU sector, development goals over the next five years are going to focus on developing China’s own technology for melt spun elastane chips, breathable film and hot melt adhesive resins.
There is a desire to set up three or four facilities with over 50kT/year capacity for world class TPU products. While this is happening, the product quality of existing plants will be improved to those found in Chinese plants operated by Taiwanese and Korean companies.
In more detail, the plan foresees a reduction in the number of cast polyurethane makers from 1,000 firms at the moment. China will expand the use of TPUs into areas such as metal ductwork and rollers.
In the CASE materials sector there are plans to set up facilities with over-10 kT/year low-free-isocyante prepolymer capacity. China will explicitly try to expand capacity for MbOCA and promote new chain extenders including MCDEA; E-100; HER and HQEE, the plan said.
New chain extenders that allow controllable reaction and different reaction rates, that are functional, non-toxic, non-polluting, easy for measurement and suitable for automatic compounding will also be set up during the plan.
It is possible that a 10kT/year facility could be set up to meet the demand.
Hand in hand with this, China will develop automatic mould-free elastomer pouring machinery and large-scale CPU elastomer pouring machinery and is specifying an accuracy of 0.5%; mechanical system accuracy less than 1%, pouring rate over 100kg/min, according to the plan.
In the civil engineering sector, China consumed 300kT of waterproof and paving materials in 2014 and in the future the country will aim to develop more technology-intensive, environmentally-friendly products. The aim is to use more MDI-based products and promote the use of nano-fillers and skid-proof materials with non-grainy surfaces. The application of multicolour PU waterproof coatings in buildings should also be expanded, the plan suggests.
Getting enough fibre?
China is a major elastane fibre maker, and it relies heavily on BASF to supply the TPU chips from which the fibres are spun.
Over the next five year’s, China aims to set up four to six world class companies making elastane fibres from TPU which China will be developing to end reliance on western firms. China will also develop spinning technology for the fibres, the plan said.
It will need three to five companies producing 10 kT/year of these fibres. Chinese firms will need to understand the key specifications that affect downstream production processes and they will have to understand how to control the stability and molecular weight of the TPU in the chips.
Turning to footwear, another area of work will be in high-performance shoe-sole resins. Here companies will be encouraged to develop high-performance, low-cost products such as grafted polyester (300-400 kg/m³or 18.7 to 25 lbs/ft³).
In the PU coating, adhesives and sealants area, China will work to improve the performance of water-borne coatings and develop environmentally-friendly two-component PU coatings and resins.
The report foresees that in the synthetic leather sector, companies will be encouraged to develop environmentally friendly resins, for waterborne, solvent-free and TPU products.
Several new facilities with over 20kT/year capacity are likely to be built.
Additionally, China will aim to domestically produce over 80% of the additives it consumes in polyurethanes if the plan is fully implemented. Target areas include: developing functional resins for flame-retardancy; shape memory; as well as high breathable, fireproof, waterproof, oil repellent, antistatic, self-cleaning and durable products.
In adhesives and sealants, China would like to set up a number of 10 kT/year capacity factories in the next five years for organic-silicone-modified polyether seals based on Chinese technology for intermediate resins.
China also wants to build a number of 100kt/year or bigger facilities for high solid content waterborne PUD and to accelerate the downstream development of product for the shoe and composite membrane sectors as well as the automotive industry.
The CPUIA has made a number of suggestions for major projects to improve the development of China’s PU industry throughout the 13th Five-Year Plan.
These include: A gas-phase phosgene method for TDI production using a spray column; with recovery of TDA from TDI residue by supercritical hydrolysis. The aim is to set up a 300kT/year TDI facility using the gas-phase phosgene method.
China is also interested in developing a non-phosgene method for isocyanates especially MDI, HDI and IPDI. The target is to set up a 100kT/year MDI facility, a 50kT/year HDI facility and a 20kT/year IPDI facility using non-phosgene technology with own intellectual property during the life time of the plan.
China aims to develop new, more efficient catalysts and increase the scale of hydrogen peroxide to propylene oxide (HPPO) processes. The target is to set up three complete 100kT/year HPPO facilities with Chinese intellectual property, according to the plan.
HPPO to grow
China will build on its positon as the world’s largest producer of propylene oxide (PO). The CPUIA said that Sinopec’s subsidiary Changling Petrochemical successfully produced polymerisable PO last year, making it the world’s third country to have developed its own HPPO technology.
Moving to dispersions, China plans to set up a 100kT/year waterborne PUD facilities with product performance similar to that of overseas companies, At the same time China will work to develop polyurethane dispersions with low solvent content or no solvents for synthetic leather, floor coatings, woodenware coatings, industrial equipment paints and adhesives
In terms of blowing agents, China may set up a 10kT/year facilities to make environmentally friendly blowing agents with product performance similar to that of overseas companies. These will have an ozone depletion potential of zero and global warming potential of one or less.
Several facilities with 10kT/year or greater capacity for solvent-free leather coatings could be built during 2020. There could also be a 10kT/year facility to make stabilisers with low-VOC, low-odour and flame retardant PU foams with globally competitive performance made using green production processes.
China will also look at developing its own PU composites with a curing time of at least 30 minutes at room temperature; tensile strength after curing of at least 20MPa; tensile elongation after curing equal to or greater than 800%; curing time at 120°C of under 12 seconds. The goal is to develop PU-resin based composites for railroad ties, window frames, utility poles and pallets.