Global Polycarbonate Market Snapshot
Polycarbonate is used in a range of value-added polymer applications, such as automotive parts, appliance housings, electronics, household goods and construction. It can be alloyed with other polymers such as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polybutylene terephthalate (PBT), or can be reinforced with glass fibre to improve its properties and lower cost. Polycarbonate has several features such as high impact resistance, lightweight, and good optical property, but it is inferior in scratch resistance.
The electrical/electronics market is the largest global polycarbonate end-use, accounting for nearly 30 percent of total demand. Demand in the electrical/electronics market is driven by replacement of metals in electronic equipment (including enclosures, computer covers and casings, telephones, televisions, switchboxes, switchboards and other electrical systems), glass replacement in light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and manufacture of the diffusion panel in large liquid crystal display (LCD) monitors and televisions. The growth in this segment is not expected to be as high as historical rates due to a slowdown in the rate of substitution. Several major parts (metal) have been replaced with polycarbonate or other engineering plastics, leaving only limited areas for polycarbonate to penetrate. Miniaturisation of electronic products has also affected growth. The expansion of the flat-screen TV/monitor market, the trend towards slim and light weight laptop, and increased volumes of mobile electronic devices has provided growth for polycarbonate resins, which are used in housings, frequently alloyed with other polymers such as ABS.
In the construction industry, polycarbonate is used mainly for building materials such as roofs, glazing and profiles, signs, noise protective boards and glass lamination. High demand growth rates for polycarbonate are in developing and emerging regions such as Asia Pacific, Middle East, South America, driven by increasing urbanisation, industrialisation and expanding infrastructure.
Polycarbonate is used in the automotive industry due to its light weight and high transparency. Polycarbonate has penetrated applications such as headlight lenses; displacing glass in selected automotive windows (i.e. small rear side windows). Automotive glazing in windscreens and panoramic roofs is a potentially huge sector for polycarbonate demand, but there are major obstacles to its usage, principally scratching, yellowing, and heat intolerance, and efforts to commercialise it on a wide scale have not so far succeeded. Further developments which have improved durability, UV resistance, scratch resistance and anti-yellowish degradation could increase polycarbonate penetration into these applications.
The global polycarbonate market had previously grown at above GDP due to the penetration of durable plastic goods in various applications. However, growth decelerated to close to GDP in 2018 with a shift from globalization towards localisation and trade tensions between key markets. Prolonged trade wars and a slowing automotive market pushed polycarbonate growth below GDP rates in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic outbreak began at the end of 2019 in China and affected global markets throughout 2020. COVID-19 has impacted most of the polycarbonate downstream industries including electrical/electronics, construction, and automotive but it also promoted new applications for medical devices and personal protective equipment. The polycarbonate market in 2020, thus, experienced only a small contraction. Demand still increased in some countries such as China where the COVID-19 situation improved rapidly after the first quarter.
Polycarbonate production is highly concentrated in three regions: Asia Pacific, Western Europe and North America. There are limited numbers of participants in the industry, and the top ten producers collectively accounted for around 80 percent of global capacity in 2020. The capacity used to be more concentrated with limited numbers of players with the top ten accounted for 85 percent in three years ago. Almost half of world supply is controlled by the top two producers: Covestro and SABIC; both companies have large production facilities in several major consuming regions.
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