Propylene oxide is a colorless, volatile liquid organic compound represented by the chemical formula CH3CHCH2O. Propylene oxide is derived from propylene; an unsaturated organic compound derived from propane. Propylene oxide is produced on an industrial scale through two main processes, the chlorohydrin process and the oxidation of the propylene process. The main use of propylene oxide is to convert it into polyether polyol, which is used in the production of polyurethane plastics.
The demand for propylene oxides is mainly driven by the rising demand from end-use applications, especially polyurethane plastics. It is the most important driver for the market. The toxic nature of propylene oxide is a key factor in limiting the growth of this market.
The largest application of propylene oxide is its conversion to polyether polyol, which is used to produce polyurethane plastics. Propylene oxide is used to sterilize fumigant to reduce mold, yeast and bacteria in nuts and cocoa powder. It is also a niche used as a sterilizer for medical equipment. Another niche use of propylene oxide is to modify food starch through minute concentrations.
Another major application of propylene oxide is in the production of propylene glycol. Propylene glycol is used to produce polyester resins, humectants, solvents and plasticizers. Propylene oxide is reacted with glycols, glycerine, alcohols and phenols to produce functional fluids such as lubricants, heat transfer fluids and hydraulic fluids. The increasing demand for end-use applications is driving the growth of the global propylene oxide market.
China is the largest market for propylene oxide globally. Propylene oxide is mostly used to produce polyurethane plastics which have a wide variety of applications. China has the largest construction industry globally and is expected to add US$1.2 trillion to global construction output by 2030. Rigid polyurethane foam is used as insulating foam, construction sealant and fire stoppers in high-rise buildings.
The global propylene oxide market is competitive due to the availability of a wide variety of companies that supply the growing demand. Some of the major players contributing to the growth in the segment are LyondellBasell Industries Holdings B.V., Dow, BASF SE, Royal Dutch Shell PLC, AGC Inc., Tokuyama Corporation, Repsol S.A., SKC, Indorama Ventures Public Company Limited and Sumitomo Chemical Co. Ltd. The significant players adopt several growth strategies such as new product launches, joint ventures and collaborations, contributing to global growth in the industry.
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