April 22, 2024

Ethylene and Propylene: Essential Petrochemicals in Our Daily Lives

These petrochemicals play a crucial role in manufacturing a wide variety of products that are integral to modern life. Let’s take a closer look at these unsung heroes of the petrochemical industry.

Production of Ethylene and Propylene

Ethylene and propylene are obtained primarily through the cracking of hydrocarbon feedstocks like naphtha, ethane, liquefied petroleum gas and gas oils. The cracking process involves heating the raw materials to high temperatures in the presence of steam to break the long-chain hydrocarbon molecules into shorter ones.

Around 65-70% of ethylene and 40-45% of propylene are produced via steam cracking of hydrocarbons. Other production methods include catalytic or fluid catalytic cracking of refinery byproducts. Global ethylene production capacity exceeds 170 million metric tons per year, while propylene capacity is over 90 million metric tons annually.

Major end uses of ethylene

Polyethylene: Ethylene is polymerized to make polyethylene, which is used to manufacture plastic bags, bottles, containers and piping. It is one of the most widely used plastics globally.

Ethylene glycol: Produced through hydration of ethylene oxide, ethylene glycol is primarily used as antifreeze in cars and heat transfer fluids. It also finds applications as a solvent.

Ethoxylates: Produced by reacting ethylene oxide with fatty alcohols or acids, ethoxylates are used in detergents, emulsifiers and industrial cleaners.

Styrene-butadiene rubber: A blend of styrene and butadiene polymerized in the presence of ethylene to create a rubber product used in tire manufacturing.

Major end uses of propylene

Polypropylene: Propylene is polymerized to make polypropylene, which is used in packaging films, plastic parts for automobiles, textiles and laboratory equipment. It is valued for its rigidity and heat resistance.

Propylene oxide: Produced through a catalytic process, propylene oxide is turned into polyols for rigid and flexible foams as well as solvents.

Cumene and phenol: Formed through alkylation of benzene with propylene, these chemicals are building blocks for resins, adhesives, polycarbonates and nylon.

Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS): A terpolymer of acrylonitrile, butadiene and styrene that provides durable, heat resistant plastic parts in automotive and electronic applications. The styrene part requires propylene in its production.

Propylene glycol: Used as antifreeze for automotive engines, aircrafts and heat transfer fluids. It also serves as a humectant in food, pharmaceuticals and personal care products.

Increasing Applications and Demand

The future outlook for Ethylene And Propylene remains robust on account of their ubiquitous applications and capacity additions in developing economies. Recycling and bio-based production technologies will help reduce dependency on non-renewable feedstocks.

Ethylene demand is projected grow 3-4% annually driven by polyethylene demand from packaging, consumer goods and construction industries in Asia. Polypropylene demand is estimated to increase at 4-5%å¹´supported by the automotive sector and infrastructure development in China, India and Middle East.

New derivatives such as ethylene vinyl acetate for solar cells and propylene oxide based polyurethane systems for insulation and coatings will further fuel demand. Recovery in global GDP growth after COVID-19 disruptions bodes well for overall petrochemical consumption in the long run.

Ethylene and propylene occupy a pedestal in today’s petrochemical industry as key building blocks for innumerable indispensable products. Despite global economic uncertainty, their versatile applications spanning the packaging, automotive, construction, textile and various other sectors ensure resilient demand in the coming years. Ongoing capacity additions and new product innovations based on these petrochemicals will continue shaping our material-dependent world.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it