Mexico City – Four themes will drive the Latin America polyurethane industry in the 2020s, according to Jan Buberl, vice president at Huntsman Polyurethanes. He was speaking at UTECH Las Americas.
Buberl, who delivered this year’s keynote presentation at the event, added that innovation and consumer preferences will continue to drive demand. But, he said, the landscape is changing. The polyurethane processing industry is maturing, and consolidation in the sector will continue.
The first factor that is driving growth onwards is the US shale gas revolution. This has significantly reduced the cost of producing petrochemicals in the US Gulf.
Industry forecasts suggest that shale gas production will continue to increase until 2025. It is then likely to plateau, and stay consistent until around 2040, he suggested.
Although cheap gas implies cheap petrochemicals, Buberl warned that raw materials prices for benzene and toluene are likely to remain volatile.
To meet the continued growing demand, Buberl said that new investments in chlor-alkali, MDI and propylene oxide are planned for the US Gulf Coastal region. This is good news for the growing Latin American PU industry, but it will take time to hit full capacity.
The process from planning to commissioning for a new greenfield MDI plant can take seven years. The plant is only likely to run at about 80% capacity for the first year of operation , Buberl added. It can take a further three years to tune operation to 100% of nameplate capacity, he said.
Downstream from the large materials makers, he said that innovation will drive growth, but consolidation will continue.
At the same time, digitalisation will become increasingly important in the region. This is an opportunity for the polyurethane industries to cut costs, improve margins, and for the early adopters, capture market share, he said.
UTECH Las Americas 2019 is being held in Mexico City from 10-12 April 2019.