Overview of the Global Acetic Acid Industry

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Acetic acid is used in various industries, including chemical, pharmaceutical, textile, polymer and paints, and food and beverages. It has multiple applications in the food industry and is commonly referred to as vinegar. It is also an acidulant, which gives food a distinct flavour profile. It can be used in the food industry for microbial decontamination of meat and as a mild descaling agent. In addition, acetic acid has recently been reported to be used as an antimicrobial edible food coating agent. The diverse food culture has a significant demand for developing such types of innovation, and acetic acid can be an effective solution.

Demand for acetic acid has dropped because of the nationwide lockdowns and subsequent supply chain disruptions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Construction and infrastructure sectors were the hardest hit by the pandemic, which impacted the polymer, paints, coatings, and adhesives industries, which all use acetic acid.

Acetic acid is the most commonly imported organic chemical in India. The country's western region is one of the largest acetic acid consumption hubs, accounting for more than half of total domestic acetic acid consumption. Other parts of the country have roughly similar acetic acid requirements, which are expected to rise in the future. Imports meet more than 80% of domestic acetic acid demand, and the international market directly impacts domestic prices. Therefore, there is very little space for acetic acid export. Malaysia, China, and Singapore are the leading importers, while Bangladesh and the UAE are India's main export destinations for acetic acid.

Growth Drivers of Acetic Acid

The major factors driving the global acetic acid market are rising demand for vinyl acetate monomer (VAM) and increasing demand for purified terephthalic acid (PTA) and ethyl acetate. VAM consumes a vast amount of the acetic acid produced globally. VAM is traditionally made by reacting acetic acid with ethylene and oxygen in a palladium catalyst in the gas phase. A large portion of the vinyl acetate monomer produced is used in paint and coating formulations. VAM is polymerized to form polyvinyl acetate or other polymers and is an essential ingredient in the paints industry. Also, the growing textile and packaging industries, increasing use of ester solvents in the paints and coatings industry, and the rising demand from the Asia-Pacific region are the primary growth drivers for the acetic acid market.

What are the causes of the shortage of acetic acid?

Recently, a shortage in food production has become apparent. With the deficiency of acetic acid to produce essential drugs, particularly mass drugs like aspirin, the situation in the pharmaceutical industry may become critical. The construction industry also deals with significant price increases for many raw materials used to produce chemical products. These include important aggregates, such as polymers and latex, paints, adhesives, and coatings, required to produce acetic acid.

Oil production grows only slowly - The United States of America, which produces acetic acid using the methanol-carbon monoxide process, supplies most acetic acid to Europe. However, the drop in oil production due to global shutdowns and reduced fuel consumption has resulted in a severe shortage of petrochemicals such as methanol. As a result, acetic acid production has been significantly reduced. On the other hand, OPEC sees few signs of a recovery in United States oil production.

Imports from Asia are complex at present - Since production in the Western Hemisphere is limited, suppliers are facing difficulty while attempting to source acetic acid from Asia. The main reasons behind this are high demand in Asia, shipping delays caused by the Suez Canal blockade, and a series of plant failures in China. In addition, restocking in India and supply shortages in Europe have fueled the price rally even further.

Containers remain in short supply - Long transportation lead times and limited availability of sea and land freight capacity have exacerbated the situation. As a result, the maritime supply chain remains fragile, containers are scarce, and rise in freight rates. All such factors increase transportation costs, which will inevitably be passed on to end-users.

Technological developments

Acetic acid producers rapidly adopt new technologies such as BP's Cativa and Celanese's AO-plus (Acid Optimization Plus), which provide considerable savings in fluctuating costs and lower capital costs for new plant construction. Aside from that, they increase capacity, improve production efficiency, cut energy consumption by about 30%, and bring down operating costs. The growing utilisation of evolving technologies for the production of chemicals and their derivatives is causing the industry to move forward—for example, Celanese Corporation and Southwest Institute of Chemical Co. Ltd announced in June 2020 that in Teng Zhou, China, they would develop a Pilot Scale-up Unit to test industrial-scale production of acrylic acid by using acetic acid as the primary resource.

Acetic acid is still one of the essential chemical molecules associated with human life. It is one of the primary building blocks for creating a variety of chemical entities. The demand for acetic acid will continue to rise, necessitating the development of an eco-friendly process. Furthermore, the modern food industry has developed various innovative applications of acetic acid in food preservation, thereby improving food quality.

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