One of the strengths of polycarbonate is its toughness, combined with transparency, and a high-temperature resistance. But despite that toughness, polycarbonate has taken a major hit when it comes to packaging demand.
Negative publicity has had a detrimental impact on the packaging sector worldwide, especially with the introduction of legislation banning the use of polycarbonate in containers intended for children, but also due to pre-emptive actions by producers and retailers, according to a recent IHS Chemical global market study.
"Even though polycarbonate hasn't officially been banned from food packaging, individual states have banned polycarbonate in baby bottles," said Adrian Beale, director of global engineering plastics at IHS Chemical. "While scientific evidence is not conclusive at the moment, due to general public perception, the packaging market began moving away from polycarbonate containers a few years ago."
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He estimated packaging accounts to about 3 to 4% of global demand for polycarbonate.
One remaining growth application for polycarbonate in packaging, is the 5-gallon water bottle. While, most of those are still polycarbonate, Beale said there's still potential to move away from polycarbonate in that area when there other alternatives are coming to the market.
Still, despite the bad PR for polycarbonate in packaging, the global demand for the resin is expected to grow at an average annual rate of around 5% during the next five years, reaching around 4.5 million metric tons by the end of 2016.
The fastest growth will be in the automotive glazing sector, which according to Beale, has the potential to be a "game-changer" for the polycarbonate industry due to the sheer scale of the potential demand for car windshields, windows and sun and moon roofs, which are currently constructed mainly from glass.
"Following a drop in demand for polycarbonate during the recession, we are seeing demand growth that is largely being driven by automotive, appliance and electronics applications," Beale said.
Electrical and electronic applications are the largest end-use for polycarbonates, accounting for around one-fifth of global demand at roughly 720,000 metric tons in 2011, he said. The key driver for this market will be the increased use in consumer electronics, such as tablet devices, flat screen televisions, mobile phones and office equipment, including printers.
According to 2007 data from the American Chemistry Council , along with nine plants that manufacture BPA, polycarbonate plastic or epoxy resins, approximately 1400 downstream facilities in the U.S. process polycarbonate or epoxy into finished products, with an investment value of $6 billion.
Two primary players
Several companies produce polycarbonate globally, but two companies, Bayer of Germany, and Sabic of Saudi Arabia, produce the lion's share of world supply, owning around 28% and 25% of global capacity, respectively.
Sam Stewart, VP of sales, Bayer MaterialScience, told