Greener Catalysts Demand Increasing To Support Chemical Market Growth

Credit: Maksym Kaharlytskyi/Unsplash
  • Polymerization catalysts account for over half chemical-processing catalysts market.
  • Sustainability a major factor affecting the production of polymer catalysts.

The polymerization catalysts market, worth about $9.8 billion, accounted for more than half the entire chemical-processing catalysts market in 2021, according to the Catalysts, Petroleum, and Chemical Process report published recently by S&P Global’s Specialty Chemicals Update Program.

Strong operating rates

Polyolefin catalysts formed the largest polymer-catalyst market sector, valued at about $5 billion, the report said. Demand for polyethylene and polypropylene catalysts was “healthy” throughout 2021 and in the first quarter of 2022, as industry operating rates were strong, according to W.R. Grace.

However, operating rates have dropped to about 80% since then, driven by a combination of high inflation, slowing demand growth, and new capacity coming online, the company added.

“We have seen our catalyst demand shift across end-use applications in response to the various macroeconomic developments since the pandemic began,” Laura Schwinn, president/specialty catalysts at Grace, told S&P Global. “For example, we have seen slowing demand related to infrastructure and automotive end-use applications that have been offset by an increase in demand for flexible and rigid packaging from e-commerce, medical, food, and industrial packaging applications.”

Keeping peace with GDP

Polyolefins demand is closely tied to GDP growth, according to Schwinn. “We see overall catalyst demand keeping pace with GDP through the next year and expect the market to rebalance inventory positions with demand growth,” she said.

Sustainable products

Sustainability is a major factor affecting the production of polymer catalysts with an increasing number of customers looking for greener, cleaner solutions.

Interest in Clariant’s phthalate-free catalysts has been much higher in 2022 than in previous years, according to Lenka Richter-Lukesova, product manager/polyolefins at Clariant’s catalysts business.

“This is driven by end users’ interest in eliminating phthalates from raw materials to make their plastics,” Richter-Lukesova told S&P Global. “In addition to phthalate-free catalysts, what we are seeing is an increase in customers who are looking for catalysts with higher activity. By using catalysts with higher activity, such as our PolyMax 600 series, you can produce more which increases yield, while also saving energy and operations costs.”

Consumer health needs

Sustainability is “a priority across the value chain and a priority for our catalyst development efforts,” said Schwinn. “We address consumer health needs through our non-phthalate catalysts and our portfolio also includes catalysts that enable low volatile organic compounds [VOCs] and low extractable resins. We consider our customers’ profitability and cost management through catalysts that increase onstream time and throughput, plus enabling product differentiation like stronger packaging and more durable pipe products.”

Grace’s greener catalysts deliver multiple benefits to customers, such as product differentiation for downgauging and light-weighting, and low VOCs for improved odor and taste, according to Schwinn. “The resin compounders value lower energy consumption and improved processing, which our catalysts help provide,” Schwinn said.

Grace’s innovation efforts also address reformulating existing products with cleaner ingredients, increasing a product’s recyclability and circularity, reducing greenhouse gas emissions during production, and developing new industry-changing products that reduce, reuse, and recycle, and ultimately lower costs across the value chain, Schwinn added.

According to Alain Rynwalt, senior vice president/polymer specialties at Nouryon, there is an emerging interest in more sustainable solutions although costs are still a strong driver of customer demand.

Value-added solutions 

“Customers are willing to pay for value-added solutions. With changing regulations and new value streams, we expect that more sustainable solutions will enable these economic benefits. That said, sustainable products with new performance attributes must offer cost benefits to be successful in the market. Sustainability will be one of the determining factors for customers, but costs continue to prevail,” Rynwalt said.

Nouryon said it is committed to contributing to a sustainable future by growing and innovating to create solutions that enable its customers to be more sustainable. About 71% of the company’s global R&D pipeline is focused on solutions with sustainability benefits and the vast majority of its R&D efforts around polymer catalyst products are directly linked to sustainability, Nouryon said.

“An important development in the market is the recycling of polymers, which is a fast-growing application,” Rynwalt said. “At Nouryon, we have developed solutions to support our customers in the mechanical recycling of polyolefins. We have solutions to upgrade the properties of the recycled materials allowing use in more value-added applications. In addition, we also investigate how our technology can support other types of recycling, including chemical recycling.”

Nouryon also said it has several R&D developments for electrification applications.

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Source: SP Global