End-Use Applications Drive Growth for $45 Billion Plastic Additives Industry

Plastics demand, and ultimately the applications driving this demand underpin the market for the $45 billion dollar plastics additives industry.  The forces of supply and demand, geographical shifts, and inter-material competition within individual end-use segments creates "pulls" for plastics additives.  For example, the infrastructure buildup in emerging markets has resulted in major increases, particularly in PVC demand, and thus higher consumption for PVC additive packages including impact modifiers, heat stabilizers, lubricants, and secondary antioxidants. Similarly, the growth of the E/E industry and related businesses in Asia and China has driven flame retardant demand toward those regions. Polyolefin packaging films continue to experience growth, especially in China. This enhances the use of such additives as nucleating/clarifying agents and slip agents. Agricultural films are a hot commodity, which spell good times ahead for light stabilizers.

The common characteristic of plastics additives is that they are manufactured specialty chemicals or materials. However, beyond this, there is little that is consistent from one product or group to another. They vary from solids to liquids to gases - they can be organic or inorganic, halogenated or non-halogenated, aromatic or aliphatic, metallic or non-metallic.  Further, they range from highly technical and sophisticated chemicals produced through involved syntheses to more common commodity materials.
Adding to this complexity is the fact that a variety of chemical materials can and frequently do, compete in the same function.  In addition, the same material type may perform more than one function in a host plastic. An example would include the many surfactant type materials based on fatty acid chemistry which could exhibit lubricant, antistatic, mold release and/or slip properties in a plastic matrix, depending upon the materials involved, loading level, processing conditions and application. These additives are, to the extent possible, analyzed by the primary function they perform in the plastic matrix rather than by their individual chemistries.
Typically plastic additives are minor components of a larger system. They are true performance products that are useful for the function they perform. Customers purchase these chemical materials to achieve a desired result; the specific chemical make-up is secondary. Additives are used in loadings of less than 0.1% to as high as 20% (up to 50% for certain inorganic flame retardants and some plasticizers). 
As a first cut, additives for plastics may be divided into three broad classes based on function:

  • Modifiers
  • Property extenders
  • Processing aids
Modifiers include products that change the physical properties of the resin.  Modification may create a new polymer or blend, improve the impact strength, transparency, flexibility, or transform the resin into an entirely new state.
Property extenders are used to ensure polymer integrity during manufacturing, molding, or in actual end-use. These products are commonly called stabilizers.
Processing aids are used to enhance the processability of the resin immediately, or after, the fabrication process.

Plastic Additives 9 is the ninth major multi-client study in plastic additives completed by Townsend Solutions since 1990 and is the most extensive review available for this industry. The objective of the study is to provide the data, analyses, and insights to support the strategic decision-making processes of competitors in the plastic additives industry. Learn more.