Plastic additives: Flame retardant demand is—you guessed it—on fire

By: 
December 30, 2010

Consumer product safety remains a high profile subject at manufacturers of electrical goods and other products, with the result a spotlight shining on the flame retardants in the plastics used in these products. As more of the world's population climbs into the middle class, with extra cash for consumption, demand around the world for E/E items will climb—and with it the demand for flame retardant plastics.

According to The Freedonia Group, Inc., a Cleveland-based industry market research firm, these trends will coalesce to push global demand for flame retardant additives to 2.2 million metric tons in 2014, a jump of greater than 6%/yr. This is a substantial acceleration from the pace of the 2004-2009 period, during which demand was severely impacted by the effects of the global economic slowdown, especially in the mature markets of the U.S., Western Europe and Japan, notes Freedonia.

WORLD FLAME RETARDANT DEMAND

(in 1000 tonnes)

 

% Annual Growth    

2004

2009

2014

2004-'09

 2009-'14

 






World Flame Retardant Demand

1528.9

1653.0

2220.0

   1.6

     6.1

North America

480.2

390.8

511.5

  -4.0

     5.5

Western Europe

392.0

360.7

427.5

  -1.7

     3.5

Asia/Pacific

546.6

758.5

1090.0

   6.8

     7.5

Other Regions

110.1

143.0

191.0

   5.4

     6.0

 






 Chart: Courtesy of The Freedonia Group Inc.

In addition to an improved economic outlook, flame retardant demand will also benefit from trends toward more stringent safety and flammability standards—particularly in the developing world—and the rising use of plastic products instead of less flammable materials. These and other trends are presented in the company's new 314-pg long World Flame Retardants study from the company, which it is marketing for $5900.

As Plasticstoday.com has reported in our own coverage of trends in flame retardants development and demand, and as also noted in Freedonia's report, concerns over the possibly damaging environmental and health effects of halogenated flame retardants have begun to cause a considerable shift in the product mix. Brominated flame retardants have come under increased scrutiny, and a combination of government regulations and image-conscious product manufacturers have led suppliers of the widely used chemical decaBDE to begin phasing out its production. 

Alumina trihydrate was the leading flame retardant product by volume in 2009, and is also expected to see above-average gains in demand through 2014, reports Freedonia, driven by trends toward non-halogenated chemicals. Even more rapid advances are forecast for phosphorus compounds and other flame retardants such as magnesium hydroxide, which feature favorable environmental and health profiles.  Although brominated flame retardants are being phased out of a number of applications, demand for these products will remain healthy going forward, supported by their superior performance and the development of new, more environmentally friendly formulations.

Our coverage of recent developments in this market has included the news that Albemarle intends to wind down the use of decabromodiphenyl ether (decaBDE) flame retardants, replacing these with its Earthwise GreenArmor flame retardants; DSM's marketing of is halogen-free, flame retardant nylon; new Dow Chemical materials for halogen-free wire and cable applications; and work at processor Keller Plastics on polylactic acid (PLA) extruded profiles that offer flame resistance, but contain no halogens, chlorine nor bromine. For more on the topic, use the Search tool at Plasticstoday.com.

The Asia/Pacific region will continue to be largest and fastest-growing market for flame retardants, accounting for half of world demand by 2014, predicts the Freedonia report, and that seems a safe bet based on the volume of E/E and other goods manufactured there.  Advances will be fueled by nearly 10% annual growth in China, strong increases in major electronics-producing countries such as Taiwan and South Korea, and a solid turnaround in Japanese demand. Gains in North America and Western Europe will rise at a more subdued pace, although each—like Japan—will exhibit a strong rebound from the declining demand of the 2004-2009 period. In its 2009 report on U.S. demand for these plastics additives, the company predicted that U.S. demand for flame retardants would expand 2.7% per year to 950 million lb, valued at $900 million, in 2013.

 

 

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