Dynamic markets and greater product sustainability were key themes at the 2013 CASE (coatings, adhesives, sealants and elastomers) conference in Amsterdam.
Shifting production in CASE market highlighted at conference
A shift in production from China to countries where goods can be produced at lower cost is set to change the landscape of the global polyurethane industry, according to research revealed at the conference.
Speaking in December 2013, the chemical research director at polyurethane market experts IAL Consultants Robert Outram provided an insightful snapshot of global polyurethane production.
He said the landscape could change further as companies consider shifting production to even cheaper countries like Vietnam.
Market trends and global share
According to Outram, coatings, adhesives, sealants and elastomers account for almost half the economic activity (48%) of the world’s polyurethane industry.
But, the market is heavily distorted towards Asia, he said. The shift in spandex, shoe production and synthetic leather production from other regions has made Asia the polyurethanes production race frontrunner.
While Europe’s polyurethane production was in the region of 4m tonnes in 2012, Asia produced more than double that at 10m tonnes. The amount of Asia’s polyurethane to enter the CASE market was around 5.8m tonnes, the majority of which is used in coatings and elastomers.
An exponential demand for synthetic leather and footwear across Asia is driving the market for elastomers there, he said. During 2012, Asia produced 2,000kT of elastomers for those types of consumer applications.
North America came in third in the polyurethane production rankings with 2.5m tonnes produced, said Outram. The world’s remaining 2m tonnes was produced by African, central and South American and Middle Eastern countries, said Outram. Furniture production was the main reason behind the increased demand for polyurethane coating, his research suggested.
Outram highlighted some of the growth opportunities opening up in this dynamic set of businesses and outlined the volume capacities of the already established markets.
China produces more than 2.3 million tonnes of polyurethane elastomers, nearly 1.4 million tonnes go into the production of synthetic leather.
Outram warned of a production over-capacity in China, where, he said, new production outlets are still being built despite the current saturation of the market.
China’s 20,000 footwear manufacturers have the capacity to produce 11 billion pairs of trainers in just one year. Currently, about 80% of the running shoes manufactured in China are exported.
The picture may well change in the medium to long term future said Outram, as more and more production centres move to even lower cost countries such as Vietnam.
Referencing further research by IAL Consultants, Naresh Chauhan from UK-based Baxenden Chemicals – a subsidiary of Chemtura, shared key data about the polyurethane dispersion market.
Chauhan’s 2012 overview suggested that 30% of the world’s polyurethane dispersion market in the Americas followed by Asia Pacific with 29% of the global market share, said Chauhan. Europe, the Middle East and Africa retained the lion share with 41%, he added.
Industrial coatings represent nearly half (45%) of that market while adhesives accounted for 16% added Chauhan.
Chauhan said that among the challenges facing the coating industry is the requirement for high solidity, low-VOC but high corrosion resistance from systems.
Developing and building on the systems’ “recyclability/sustainability and carbon footprint” are vital to the development process regardless of the application method, he said. “Creating products free from any process solvent or alkyl phenol-type surfactant which gave similar performance as higher VOC formulations is a key challenge for the coating industry,” said Chauhan.
Renewable resources as polyurethane building blocks
BioAmber’s global applications & technology support manager William Coggio showcased what he described as his company’s ‘platform chemical’ - namely succinic acid.
With the strapline ‘cheaper and cleaner’ Coggio outlined the benefits of BioAmber’s innovation to harvest succinic acid – a basic building block for polyester polyols – from sugars and C02 instead of oil-based production processes.
The production process burns less energy and emits 100% less greenhouse gas than the conventional technologies used to produce petrochemical adipic acid – a monomer used in the production polyurethane, added Coggio.
Coggio claims the revolutionary technology will replace fossil fuel feed stocks with sugars and C02. The process works by the fermentation, purification and conversion of any source of sugar and C02 such as corn, wheat, tapioca, cane and beets into BDO and THF.
Crystallising those renewable feed stocks produces succinic acid, said Coggio.
Field-to-gate energy and GHG emissions calculations of the production processes planned for the company’s $125m production plant in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada, confirmed the technology’s is carbon neutral and consumes less energy.
The tests also showed the system does not emit greenhouse gasses like petrochemical adipic acid production technologies. Assessments were carried out by RiffelCO2nsulting in March 2013, he said.
He referenced partnerships such as BioAmber’s with Faurecia to find an alternative to polypropylene in automotive applications and the Stahl/BioAmber collaboration to develop renewable polyurethane coatings.
Also showcasing renewable feedstock innovation, Anda Fridrihsone-Girone from the Latvian State Institute of Wood Chemistry, told delegates how her organisation is synthesising rapeseed oil polyols.
The institute’s main activities include the development of polyurethane solutions from renewable raw materials such as tall oil, oxalic acid as well as different vegetable oils or starch. According to Fridrihsone-Girone, the institute’s Ripor 6T polyurethane foam made from tall oil is regarded one of Latvia’s greatest 10 inventions.
She outlined the preparation of spray-applied polyurethane coatings from a combination of rapeseed oil polyol with chain extenders, molecular sieves and a defoaming agent that would be mixed in a Graco-manufactured two-component spraying machine, specifically chosen by engineers for the project.
Comprising two tanks, the machine would mix the developed polyol system and isocyanate polymeric MDI.
The system could, she said, provide anti-corrosion protection for metal constructions, coatings for vertical concrete structuring and to protect polyurethane foams from the environmental factors.
What can be drawn from the institute’s research said Fridrihsone-Girone, is “confirmation that rigid bio-based polyurethane coatings can be obtained using rapeseed oil triethanolamine polyols and that catalytically active polyols eliminate the requirement for organometallic catalysts and display high mechanical properties.”
Finally, she said: “A fast-curing, VOC-free and bio-based thixotropic spray-applied polyurethane coating was produced by combining rapeseed oil and triethanolamine polyol with different chain extenders. The product retained a gel time of 20 to 45 seconds."
Novomer representative Simon Waddington gave his presentation on the innovation his firm had brought to the field of C02–based polyols.
Used in the production of polyurethane elastomers, reactive hot melts and scratch-resistant coatings, Waddington outlined how Novomer is utilising its proprietary catalysts to synthetically convert CO2 and CO into useful chemicals and materials.
Case market business development manager Wadddington told delegates that the process yielded “higher strength elastomer polyols with excellent chemical resistance and compatibility with existing polyurethane components.” The product can easily be formulated with existing polyols and isocyanates in typical polyurethane formulations.
Hot melt technology and coatings with C02 –based building blocks
Novomer’s innovative material is compatible with crystalline polyesters, shows an improved “lap shear strength”, high final strength and good melt stability. According to Waddington, the material’s 5% viscosity will increase @120oC/in 24 hours.
The polyurethane coating standard achieved by utilising Novomer’s innovation include a high level of hardness and excellent adhesion as well as, said Waddington, UV and chemical-resistance properties.
However, the innovation that really stood out in Waddington’s presentation was the research that had brought Novomer one step closer to the holy grail of polyurethane-based coatings – a transparent polyurea.
As part of Novomer’s explorative work to blend the perfect protective finish for surfacing, a hard coating was applied to a glass surface and then exposed to UVB radiation for a six-month period.
According to Waddinton, after the test period, the adhesion to glass, pencil hardness and colour remained unchanged. The coating was also entirely free of cracks, he said.
“The versatility of polyurethane is opening up new uses in new applications,” was the message BASF brought to the conference.
BASF’s global product development application specialist Cinzia Tartarini told delegates how BASF developed a TPU skin as an alternative to PVC skin for automotive interiors. The TPU package the client had provided insufficient light stability and was subject to blooming due to the high loading required.
In developing an optimised stabiliser package that will enable TPU to meet the application requirements, BASF manufactured samples for testing through oven aging and weathering processes.
On mechanical property retention, the product outperformed the reference for oven aging and weathering. For discolouration, gloss and blooming, said Tartarini, the new product performed comparably with the reference product.
Gas fading problems after processing aliphatic TPU for sport applications is another challenge BASF chemicals experts tackled for another customer. Following consultations with the applicator to assess behaviour and examination of the TPU plaques at BASF facilities, it was revealed that the interaction of HALS 5 with hindered phenol formed quinoid side products, which are not light stable.
According to Tartarini, a “significant reduction of gas fading is achieved by using a combination of hindered phenol and phosphite. This is how innovative stabiliser packages can enhance TPU stability and durability.”