Salinas said in general capacity utilization rates have improved across the mix of synthetic rubbers.
"I think the tire rubbers are where the numbers are lower compared with other elastomer types," he said. "Numbers are better because consumption is improving and the recovery of consumption is improving. But consumption is improving lower than we predicted before."
While production rates are better than in 2020, Petrovic said everyone wants to know when SR consumption will return to the pre-pandemic levels of 2019. She said SBS and other block copolymers likely are the only ones to reach that at this point because of the tie to infrastructure projects.
"Other elastomers linked to the automotive industry, we see a lot of delay in that. At least a year," she said. "If all goes well, maybe by the end of 2023, or the beginning of 2024."
While solution SBR has been struggling some because a lot of capacity came on stream shortly before the COVID slowdown, the material is starting to get back to where the market levels had been. Plus, the future for SSBR will benefit from the movement toward electric vehicles.
Conventional wisdom says that EVs will require high-performance tires and elastomer materials for other rubber goods.
Growth of EVs is expected to be faster in Europe than in China and North America, but Petrovic is one who thinks the projections are ambitious. Considering the possibility of slowing economies and the uncertainties caused by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the IISRP said a return to pre-pandemic levels may come a year later than expected.
"We know solution SBR will continue to grow, driven by electrical vehicle strength," she said, "but I don't believe it will grow at the same pace as EVs are now forecast to be."
And the IISRP knows all too well how tough predicting the future can be.