Global Processing

European petrochemicals industry benefits from shortages in the US, report claims

October 26, 2012

NEW YORK — Healthy export demands from overseas will keep the huge European butadiene market afloat, as local demand wanes, claims a new report by industry experts GBI Research.

The new report states that while the Middle East has upcoming downstream plants to produce Styrene Butadiene Rubber (SBR) and Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS), which promise to encourage the butadiene industry in the region, Europe is relying on the U.S. to fuel their butadiene industry.

Europe and the Middle East’s demand for butadiene has steadily been increasing over the last decade, primarily led by advanced countries from Western Europe, such as Germany and France. However, the large populations and growing economies of countries like Russia and other nations of Eastern Europe mean that they also have huge consumption potential.

Europe’s demand has historically overshadowed that of the Middle East, and this trend is expected to continue in the future, with the European region predicted to account for more than 90 percent of Europe and the Middle East’s butadiene demand in 2020. New downstream plants are also due to come online in Iran and Saudi Arabia during the near future, and this is expected to reduce the proportion of butadiene demand from Western Europe in the forecast period. However, Europe’s butadiene exports will still grow, due to strong demand from the US, which is increasingly becoming a strong market for European butadiene exports.

The newfound love for shale gas in the US is leaving their petrochemicals industry in the dark, as crude oil feedstock for butadiene production goes out of vogue, and Europe is reaping the benefits. The US is starting to increase its use of shale gas as an energy source instead of crude oil, and since shale gas contains less C4 hydrocarbons (which when cracked produce butadiene), the US is experiencing an increasing shortage of locally produced petrochemicals. As a result, local butadiene consumers are increasingly relying on foreign imports. The European butadiene market has not been experiencing very healthy growth, due to waning local demand, and so the increased butadiene demand from US consumers presents a readily available market for European producers. As the situation stands, European butadiene producers are going to be a major source of supply to North America in future.

Butadiene downstream segments include polybutadiene, ABS, and SBR sectors. Butadiene is a raw material used in making a wide variety of synthetic rubbers and polymer resins, and is most commonly used in the production of SBR, which is used to manufacture automobile tires, adhesives, sealants, coatings and other rubber articles such as shoe soles.

In 2000, Europe and the Middle East’s butadiene demand stood at 2,037,749 tons, before increasing to 2,575,670 tons in 2011. This demand is expected to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 4.9 percent between 2011 and 2020, to reach 3,173,838 tons in 2020.