Global demand for linear alkylbenzene outpaces demand for branched alkylbenzene

Nov. 6, 2000
Global consumption of linear alkylbenzene (LAB) will grow at an annual rate of 3.6% between 1999 and 2010, while branched alkylbenzene (BAB) will decline at a rate of 8%/year during the same period.

Global consumption of linear alkylbenzene (LAB) will grow at an annual rate of 3.6% between 1999 and 2010, while branched alkylbenzene (BAB) will decline at a rate of 8%/year during the same period.

Both LAB and BAB are raw materials for detergents. LAB is the primary raw material for linear alkylbenzene sulfonate, a popular biodegradable surfactant.

In 1999, LAB accounted for 92% of the detergent alkylate market. Its share will to rise to 98% by 2010 at the expense of BAB, which is being phased out of detergent applications because it is nonbiodegradable.

Global demand for detergent alkylate will grow at an annual rate of 3.0% during 1999-2010, from 2.5 million tons to 3.5 million tons.

These are the conclusions of a multiclient study by Colin A. Houston & Associates, a chemical consulting firm based in Pound Ridge, NY.

Regional demand

The Asia-Pacific region consumes the most alkylbenzene in the world. It accounted for 36% of global demand in 1999. Colin A. Houston thinks the Asia-Pacific region will experience the fastest growth in LAB demand in the world between 1999 and 2010-at 5.1%/year.

Click here to enlarge image

Fig. 1 contrasts 1999 and expected 2010 LAB consumption by region.

Latin America, which includes Mexico in Colin A. Houston's study, is the second largest alkylbenzene market. It will experience solid 3.5%/year growth during the 1999-2010 period.

North America and West Europe have mature LAB markets. North American demand will increase about 1%/year, while West Europe's demand will decline by 1.2%/year.

Developing economies will help East Europe, the Middle East, and Africa experience 4.6%/year LAB demand growth.

Regional capacity

Global alkylbenzene capacity is primarily dedicated to the production of LAB, although a few swing BAB/LAB plants still exist. Today, LAB capacity is 3 million tons/year and will increase by 425,000 tons between 1999 and 2005.

The Asia-Pacific region will accommodate about 70% of new LAB capacity. Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, and East Europe will add smaller amounts of LAB capacity.

After 2005, this new capacity will not be sufficient to satisfy the global LAB market, says Max Negrin, project director of the study. He approximates that more than 300,000 tons/year of additional LAB capacity will be required after 2010 to bring LAB supply in balance with demand.

North America and West Europe will continue to export LAB supplies to LAB-deficient regions such as Latin America, East Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Even the Asia-Pacific region will be an exporter until 2010, when it will require new capacity.

Production trends

Two producers, Petresa Group, Madrid, and Condea, Hamburg, Germany, dominate world production of LAB. They account for 18% and 17% of global LAB capacity, respectively.

Normal paraffinic feedstocks increasingly account for the production of LAB. Demand for n-paraffin will grow at an average rate of 4.2%/year in the 1999-2010 timeframe, says the consultant.

While paraffinic feedstock accounted for 81% of LAB consumption in 1995, it will make up 94% of consumption in 2010. At the same time, the role of internal olefins and alphaolefins in LAB production will decline between 2000 and 2005.

Construction of gas-to-liquid plants will soften the tight demand for normal paraffins. Demand for propylene tetramer, the feedstock for branched detergent alkylate, will decline at an average rate of 8%/year as the world market shifts away from BAB in response to environmental concerns.