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Petrochemicals

Shortages loom for methyl methacrylate

Prices for the raw material essential to plastics, paints, and adhesives have already increased

by Marc Reisch
September 3, 2018 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 96, ISSUE 35

 

Planned shutdowns this fall of methyl methacrylate (MMA) plants are likely to further limit supplies and increase prices in a strong economy for a feedstock essential for plastic safety glass like Plexiglas, household acrylic paint, and adhesives, according to the consulting firm IHS Markit.

Producers have scheduled maintenance shutdowns in September and October that will reduce MMA output in the U.S. to 65% capacity and in northeast Asia to 80%, says Denis Poussin, director of global acrylates research at the consulting firm.

The reduced output will make an already tight global market worse and drive even higher prices in the fall, Poussin says. MMA has been tight for the past 18 months, he explains, because of a series of planned and unplanned outages in Asia and the U.S. during 2016 and 2017. Since January 2017, European prices spiked nearly 60%, while U.S. prices rose 20%.

A reason the industry finds itself in the current fix is that between 2012 and 2016, supplies outstripped demand. So prices declined and “manufacturers, who were barely breaking even, quit investing” in new facilities, Poussin says.

Two new MMA facilities have started up this year in Saudi Arabia, adding 340,000 metric tons of total annual capacity, Poussin points out. The additions are providing only minimal relief in the current strong economy, Poussin says.

Other polymer feedstocks are also in short supply due in part to the strong economy. In response to the demand for nylon 6,6 polymers, both Ascend Performance Materials and Invista recently committed to significant adiponitrile capacity expansions.

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