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Glycol Ethers Facts and figures

A glycol ether is a liquid substance derived from organic chemistry. Properties, such as being soluble in water, mean that it is used as a solvent in a variety of domestic and industrial applications. A large proportion of glycol ethers go into the paints and coatings industry. Other uses include inks, cleaning products, pharmaceuticals, chemical intermediates, hydraulic and brake fluids, plasticizers, anti-icing agents and cosmetic/ personal care products01. The use of glycol ethers as solvents in various formulations, such as paints, inks and cleaning fluids accounts for over half of all glycol ether consumption (including E-series and P-series)02 .

The United States counts as the world’s largest producer, consumer and exporter of E-series glycol ethers. The USA accounted for roughly 25% of the consumption of E-series glycol ethers in 2009. Meanwhile, Western Europe accounted for 22% and China for 21%. Growth in the consumption of E-series glycol ethers is predicted to be significant in China, with an average annual growth of 11% during 2009-2014, followed by Canada, the Middle East, Africa, and Mexico. The increase in E-series glycol ether consumption will average at around 5% per year through to 2014.

Western Europe is the largest producer and consumer of P-series glycol ethers. Western Europe consumed about 41% of P-series glycol ethers worldwide in 2009, with the Unites States consuming 20% and China 18%. Growth in P-series glycol ether consumption is predicted to be greatest in China, followed by the Asia Pacific region, Mexico, the Middle East and Africa, Central and Eastern Europe. Globally, P-series glycol ether consumption will be the faster-growing segment, averaging about 6.4% per annum through to 2014.

The following pie chart is an approximate representation of the 2006 global consumption of glycol ethers by country:

Glycol ethers are an intermediate chemical with a global market in excess of thirteen million tpa. The trade flows for most glycol ether products are from the United States, Western Europe and Japan to Asia. China, the Republic of Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia are the major importing countries and the United States, Japan, Germany, Malaysia and France- the major exporting countries.

The leading producers of glycol ethers and their acetates are Dow (United States, Germany, Italy, Japan), Eastman (United States), LyondellBasell (United States and Netherlands), INEOS (Belgium and France), BASF (Germany), Shell (Netherlands), Kyowa Hakko (Japan), Nippon Nyukazai (Japan) and Yokkaichi (Japan). Most supply both the E- and P-series products. Some supply the whole product range (Dow and Lyondell), but others supply the full range of commodities (Shell, BASF and Daicel) while the rest supply a limited product range. Glycol ethers are generally made at sites adjacent to suppliers of ethylene oxide or propylene oxide

The glycol ether market is therefore relatively concentrated, given the consolidation of the industry in the 1980s. Glycol ethers are produced by 22 companies in the United States, Western Europe and Japan. The top six companies account for about 81% of the total capacity. The production capacity was insufficient to supply glycol ethers in some markets during 2007 (ethylene glycol monobutyl ethers in the United States). The glycol ether market continues to be at risk of consolidation of producers as new plant capacity is being added in China for both E-series and P-series products.