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IISRP executive warns of future overcapacity

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Roxanna Petrovic addresses the IISRP's general meeting in Koyto, Japan.

KYOTO, Japan—Production overcapacity, always an important issue for the global synthetic rubber industry, will continue to accelerate in the coming years.

That's the assessment of Roxanna B. Petrovic, head of the statistical program at the International Institute of Synthetic Rubber Producers, in a speech presented at the association's 2014 Annual General Meeting in Kyoto from May 19-22.

The IISRP's general director of programs detailed capacity levels and demand forecasts for major SRs, as well as styrene block-copolymer thermoplastic elastomers. The constants in each type of polymer: more production capacity exists than demand, and planned expansions will add to that scenario.

Emulsion SBR is the only major rubber to show any reduction in capacity, Petrovic reported. A Versalis S.p.A. factory in Hythe, England, closed in March because of a decline in demand, cutting out 75,000 metric tons of capacity, and Lanxess A.G.'s facility in Triunfo, Brazil, is switching a 110,000 ton emulsion SBR line to solution SBR by 2015.

However, Zhejiang Vitile Rubber Co. Ltd. is adding 100,000 tons of ESBR capacity at a Zhejiang, China, operation, and an Indian Synthetic Rubber Ltd.-TSRC Corp. joint venture is planning to bring on line another 100,000 tons by 2016.

A large number of SR expansions are planned worldwide, Petrovic said. Sixteen projects to boost polybutadiene rubber capacity are planned or in the works between 2014-17; 18 projects for SSBR; 10 for EPDM; seven for SBC; and nine for butyl.

On the low end, three expansions each are scheduled for nitrile and polyisoprene.

All told, the world today has the capability of producing 18.63 million tons of SR, Petrovic said.

From the dawn of the SR industry after World War II and for several decades after, North America led the world in SR production, but today China is firmly No. 1. That nation accounts for 5.11 million metric tons, or 28 percent, of global capacity. Combined, the remaining Asian nations have 26 percent of the world's capacity, leaving North America a distant third at 17 percent.

The IISRP official's report said 27 companies represent 80 percent of global SR capacity. Germany's Lanxess leads the other Big 4 SR producers by a significant margin, followed by China's Sinopec and PetroChina Co. Ltd., and South Korea's Korea Kumho Petrochemical Co. Ltd. All have the capacity to produce in excess of 1 million tons of SR annually.

Petrovic noted several important trends in the global SR industry. On the technology front, she pointed to improvements in green, bio-based materials, green tire developments, advances in SBC and EPDM technology, among other developments; and work on energy-saving tires and materials to facilitate their creation.

Butadiene supply remains a major issue for the industry. While some new capacity is being added in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, it isn't keeping up with demand, especially considering the SSBR and BR expansions coming on line, the IISRP executive said.