The global market for thermoplastic elastomers (TPEs) is forecast to grow 3.0% annually through 2024 to 7.0 million metric tons as penetration continues to expand in both developing and developed parts of the world:
- TPEs are gaining favor over thermoset rubber worldwide due to advantages including processability and tailorability, as well as product development of new TPE grades and compounds that continue to improve performance.
- Though demand will dip in 2020 due to COVID-related slowdowns in construction and manufacturing, greater losses will be prevented by the widespread use of TPEs in consumer goods and medical products, markets where demand has spiked amid the pandemic.
A new Freedonia Group study analyzing trends in the global TPE market identifies key growth areas to watch going forward, a selection of which are highlighted below.
Motor Vehicles Will Continue to Represent Biggest Opportunities for TPE Suppliers
TPE suppliers can find the most opportunities in the motor vehicle market. Suppliers targeting the Asia/Pacific region will benefit from emerging motor vehicle markets in such countries as China, India, and Thailand, where penetration rates for TPEs lag those of developed countries. Since penetration rates are low, opportunities are numerous, including for the replacement of EPDM rubber in such standard components as door and window seals.
In developed countries, TPEs are beginning to reach maturity in exterior and structural motor vehicle components. However, there is still room for growth, particularly in interior skins and components, where increasing demand for soft-touch feel will continue to drive greater use of TPEs. Engine applications are another growth area, where ease of processing and increasing performance characteristics will lead TPEs to overtake rubber.
Fast Growth in Medical Markets Bolstered by Environmental & Health Trends Against PVC
TPEs have emerged as environmentally friendly alternatives to PVC-based plastic products, which typically contain phthalate plasticizers. Phthalates have been linked to reproductive defects in humans, and long term chemical instability may leach chemicals into the environment surrounding PVC products. Additionally, manufacture of TPEs uses fewer pollutants, less water, and emits fewer carbon byproducts.
Another environmental advantage of TPEs is their recyclability. Unlike thermoset materials and many PVC compounds, TPEs can be melted and reused multiple times. In addition to reducing costs for end users, recycling reduces landfill usage and manufacturing energy consumption.
A number of government entities and companies have undertaken steps to phase out PVC and other phthalate-containing products. Examples include:
- In the US, phthalates in children’s toys have been banned since 2008.
- In June 2017, the Committee for Socio-Economic Analysis of the European Chemicals Agency announced that it had voted to restrict phthalates in most products over concentrations of 0.1% by volume.
The most recent battleground for PVC has been in the medical supply industry, where PVC has been increasingly replaced by TPEs in IV bags and tubing. This trend is expected to continue into the near term, making medical products one of the fastest growing TPE markets.
Rising Use of 3D Printing to Boost Demand for Thermoplastic Polyurethanes (TPUs)
Though a relatively small segment of the global TPE market, TPU demand will be boosted by its use in 3D printing applications –notably in the production of aerospace parts ¬– where the material is favored for its:
- significant flexibility
- high level of elasticity
- resistance to tears, abrasions, and any damage caused by oils and solvents
Development agreements are common in this area because they enable companies with different specialties to combine their areas of expertise, thereby driving technological advancement and new revenue for both firms. For instance, when Lubrizol and HP have an agreement to develop ESTANE TPUs for 3D printing applications, Lubrizol became one of many materials science companies participating in HP’s Open Materials and Applications Platform, in which a number of firms work together to develop materials and applications for 3D printing in order to accelerate the technology’s adoption.
Major global TPE suppliers are also moving to increase their additive manufacturing expertise by integrating 3D printing into their operations. For example:
Looking for More?
Global Thermoplastic Elastomers is now available from The Freedonia Group. See the full collection here: https://www.freedoniagroup.com/Content/Elastomers-Page/
About the Author:
Peter Kusnic is a Content Writer with The Freedonia Group, where he researches and writes studies focused on an array of industries.