Market Study Ethylene Shale Gas and Drifting down of Prices Will Determine Ethylene Market

Editor: M.A. Manja Wühr

Ethylene is the by far most important raw material in the petrochemical industry. The market research institution Ceresana has published its new "Market Study: Ethylene".

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„Market Study: Ethylene“ by Ceresana
„Market Study: Ethylene“ by Ceresana
(Picture: Ceresana)

Konstanz/Germany – About 130 million tonnes of ethylene were processed worldwide in 2013. Direct applications include, among others, the three polyethylene plastics HDPE, LLDPE, and LDPE as well as petrochemical intermediates, which are in turn mainly used for the production of plastics. The most important of these are ethylene oxide, ethylene dichloride and ethylbenzene. With this current market study, Ceresana offers transparency regarding the development of the entire global market for ethylene and ethylene-derived products. It analyses important recent influential factors in detail, for example the consequences of the shale gas boom in the USA. Forecast cover the years up until 2021.

US Fracking Boom Affects Global Market

The shale gas boom in the US has considerable influence on the future development of the global market for ethylene: The strong decline of prices for ethane has led to a number of new ethane crackers being built. In contrast to other feedstocks such as naphtha or propane, the cracking of ethane yields a rather high amount of ethylene. This is of consequence for the global market: Several European manufacturers have announced to either close their crackers or to change over to using imported ethane as feedstock. Should the current downward slide of oil prices continue, however, the US fracking industry might lose its foothold; Ceresana analyses the long-term implications.

Increasing Self-Sufficiency Proclaimed Goal in China

Right now China not only imports large amounts of ethylene, but also increasingly HDPE, LLDPE, and LDPE. Many producers of ethylene and polyethylene are dependent on these exports to China. The Chinese government, however, is trying to significantly increase self-sufficiency in regard to ethylene and its downstream derivatives. In addition to a rising number of naphtha crackers, the use of coal in the production of olefins is supposed to be stepped up.

Slow-down of Revenue Growth

In accordance with current developments on the world market, Ceresana forecasts revenues generated with ethylene on the global market to increase by 3.2% p.a. between 2013 and 2021 and thus at much lower rates than it had in the previous eight years. According to our analyses, this development goes in line with the fact that the partly resource fuelled, massive increase of production capacity will proceed faster than the increase of demand. Consequently, capacity utilization is likely to fall, which has a negative influence on price development.

Polyethylene Prime Application

The polyethylene industry will continue to consume the majority of all ethylene produced. Depending on density and rigidity of the product, polyethylene is classified as either HDPE, LDPE or LLDPE. In 2013, about 63% of global demand for ethylene was accounted for by producers of these plastics.

While demand for LDPE is anticipated to increase only moderately, we forecast high growth rates for the products HDPE and LLDPE. Asia-Pacific and the Middle East in particular are expected to notably increase capacity in the near future.

Growth Impulses for Ethylene Oxide

Another application area of huge growth potential is the production of ethylene oxide. Ethylene oxide is mainly used to produce ethylene glycol which is a pre-product for polyester. The production of textile fibers is growing significantly, especially in Asia. In addition, producers of ethylene oxide have already been able to profit from the worldwide growing substitution of glass by PET bottles and containers. We forecast global demand for ethylene in the production of ethylene oxide to increase by about 3.2% per year.

Regional Differences in Development

Between 2005 and 2013, the Middle East has become one of the most important regions in regard to the global ethylene industry following a growth of 9.1% per year. Output is likely to rise by up to another 10 million tonnes between 2013 and 2021. After production had largely stagnated between 2005 and 2013, the US are significantly increasing output, capitalizing on cheap shale gas. Eastern Europe, dominated by development in Russia, and Africa are also expecting to see a high relative increase of production volume. Western Europe, on the other hand, will reduce output as a response to the increase pricing pressure.