Methanol Carbonylation Continues as the Most Popular Route for Acetic Acid Production
Acetic acid is a colourless organic liquid with a pungent smell. Commonly used acetic acid is household vinegar. It is naturally made from fermentation of potatoes, apple, grains, and berries amongst others. Vinegar is a clear solution with acetic acid concentration levels between 4% to 8% and 95% water. Acetic acid with 99.5% concentration is referred as glacial acetic acid (GAA). It is considered as pure form of acetic acid. This acid is used for chemical production, industrial solvents, oil well stimulation, cleaning and disinfection for processed food, and pharmaceutical production processes.
Acetic acid is diverse organic chemicals that can be used across a range of feedstock and production processes. Carbonylation of methanol is one of the most popular route and accounts for more than 2/3rd of the total acetic acid capacity worldwide. Recently, BP has made a revolutionary breakthrough technology, ‘SaaBre™’, that produced acetic acid from syngas thus eliminating the necessity of methanol as a feedstock.
Vinyl Acetate Monomer (VAM) and Purified Terephthalic Acid (PTA) to Remain Largest End Users
In 2018, more than 16 million tons of acetic acid was consumed worldwide. Vinyl acetate monomer accounted for more than 1/3rd of this acetic acid demand in the same year. It is used in variety of polymers and base resins such as polyvinyl acetate and polyvinyl alcohol. These products are used in range of applications in paints & coatings, adhesives, films, and cable materials. Purified terephthalic acid is the second-largest and one of the fastest-growing derivatives of acetic acid. Boost in resin production, especially polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles and polyester fiber, is expected to drive demand for acetic acid.
Acetic anhydride is another major derivative of acetic acid. Cellulose acetate fibers and plastics is the major application of acetic anhydride. Cellulose acetate flakes are mainly consumed in cigarette filter tow. Acetic anhydride is also used as raw material for drug manufacturing such as aspirin and acetaminophen. Ethyl acetate is another major outlet for acetic acid and is primarily used as solvent in paints and coatings, printing inks, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics. It is also used as an intermediate to wide range of drugs including sulphamethoxazole, rifampicin, etc. Other applications of acetic acid include n-butyl acetate, monochloroacetic acid, ethanol, and other acetate compounds.
Asia Pacific Led by China to Continue to be the Most Important Market of Acetic Acid
Asia Pacific is the largest producer and consumer of acetic acid. The region has been the epicenter of capacity additions and demand for acetic acid. China accounts for more than half of the world acetic acid production. It has huge coal-derived methanol production plants, a key raw material in the production of acetic acid. This helps China to offer competitive product prices in the market. Demand in Asia Pacific region is majorly driven due to rise in production of ethyl acetate, vinyl acetate monomer, and purified terephthalic acid along with support from their downstream applications.
North America is the second-largest producer and consumer of acetic acid. On the back of cost competitive methanol production, the region is anticipated to be one of the largest net exporters of acetic acid over the coming years. Demand for acetic acid in the Europe is expected to move in line with economic growth in key countries. Vinyl acetate monomer and purified terephthalic acid will continue to boost demand for acetic acid in the region.
Companies to Focus on Capacity Expansion, Integrated Businesses to Gain Competitive Advantage
Majority of the multinational companies operating in the global acetic acid market have integrated business operations. Companies such as Celanese operates across the value chain, gaining a competitive advantage in the market. M&A synergies are also expected to play important role in key geographies. In 2020, Ineos purchased BP’s petrochemical global assets. This purchase added BP’s aromatic and acetyl assets to Ineos’ existing capacity in North America. This acquisition will strengthen Ineos’ position in the competitive market.
Furthermore, to meet the robust demand from numerous applications, companies are investing in capacity expansions with new technologies. The Middle East region is expected to lead the capacity additions over the coming years. The region is anticipated to add 1.3 MTPA capacity from two-new build projects from The Oman Oil Company and Bushehr Petrochemical Company. In North America, Celanese also announced increase in capacity of acetic acid plant in Texas to be completed by 2023.