When magazine editors ask questions, in bylined leader columns such as this, it’s because they think they know the answer. But the following question isn’t a rhetorical one; it’s one I really don’t know the answer to: what is the size of the global market for polyurethane?
We often hear that the global market for polyurethane is $75bn – an estimate based upon total sales of polyols and isocyanates. But does that tell the whole story of polyurethane’s value to the world economy? And are we asking the wrong question? Should we be asking, “What is the size of the global polyurethane industry?”
I think the true value of PU is considerably higher than $75bn, but my thought is a hunch, not the result of rigorous research. Firstly, this figure doesn’t take into account blowing agents and additives – both parts of the “stuff” that comprises the materials we call polyurethane. It doesn’t take into account the money paid to systems houses to dream up new formulations. And then there is a polyurethane industry beyond chemistry. There’s the sales of machinery used in the production of polyurethane and the maintenance of said machinery. There is also the “added value” of manufacturing: a kilogram of rigid foam insulation sells for considerably more than a kilogram of polyol and isocyanate.
I wrote the above two paragraphs hoping to get some answers from the readership and maybe spark some discussion on our LinkedIn page. Little did I realise that I would find an answer – a partial answer, at least – before even asking the question.
In late September, I travelled to San Antonio, Texas, for the annual Polyurethanes Technical Conference organised by the Center for the Polyurethane Industry (CPI) of the American Chemistry Council. During the opening address, Pavneet Mumick, global vice president, technology and innovation, Huntsman Polyurethanes (and chair of the CPI steering committee for the last two years), said: “The contributions of the polyurethane industry to the US are numerous. Polyurethane products are used in industries across the economy generating nearly $400bn in output and employing more than one million workers in the United States.”
I’m not a mathematician, but clearly $400bn is a much larger number than $75bn. And that’s just a figure for the United States. I need to press Mumick on his methodology, if I am to find a global answer. But, in the meantime, how big do you think the PU industry is? And how would you measure it? Answers on our LinkedIn page, please, or on the back of a stamped, addressed envelope if you’re of the pre-internet generation.
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