Global Thermoplastic Elastomers: Adhesives, Sealants, & Coatings

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TPEs

This study analyzes the global market for thermoplastic elastomers (TPEs) used in adhesives, sealants, and coatings by region and product. For the purposes of this study, a thermoplastic elastomer is defined as any thermoplastic material that exhibits elastomeric properties; TPEs therefore offer the functional performance characteristics of thermoset rubber but are processed using the methods and machinery of rigid thermoplastics.

TPEs covered in this report are:

  • polyolefin elastomers (POEs)
  • styrenic block copolymers (SBCs)
  • thermoplastic polyurethanes (TPUs)

SBCs that do not exhibit elastomeric properties (i.e., high styrene products that contain roughly 60% or more styrene) are excluded from the scope of this study.

In addition to products, demand is segmented by market application:

  • tapes and labels
  • nonwovens (e.g., disposable diapers, feminine hygiene products, adult incontinence products)
  • packaging and other applications, including construction, transportation equipment, consumer goods, appliances, electrical and electronic products, furniture assembly, jewelry, machinery production, medical and dental products, and sporting goods

Historical data (2009, 2014, and 2019) and forecasts for 2024 and 2029 are presented for TPE demand for consumer markets in metric tons.

TPEs

Demand by Region

Global demand for TPEs used in adhesives, sealants, and coatings is projected to expand 3.7% yearly to 927,000 metric tons. The Asia/Pacific region will remain the largest market and see solid growth, buoyed by:

  • the large nonwovens market in the region
  • increasing modernization of regional manufacturing, supporting the transition from mechanical fasteners to tapes and other adhesives in the production of motor vehicles and other transportation equipment, medical products, and furniture
  • strong gains in construction activity, particularly in China

Despite market maturity in both regions, North America and Western Europe will post moderate gains, boosted by newly introduced TPEs offering improved performance characteristics.

Pricing Trends

Comparative prices and final installed cost are important considerations in determining the market potential for thermoplastic elastomers:

  • The price range for TPEs is wide, with actual cost to the customer depending on product type, proprietary formulation, and grade.
  • Although TPEs are typically more expensive than thermoset rubber on a per kilogram basis, this higher cost can be offset by their lower weight and savings in manufacturing costs due to the use of thermoplastic processing methods such as injection molding.

In 2019, average prices for these TPEs ranged from $2.35 per kilogram for POE to $5.25 per kilogram for TPUs. Prices can be even higher for niche products such as silicone- or fluoropolymer-based TPEs.

Average TPE prices are expected to grow less than 1.0% per year to $3.65 per kilogram in 2024, rebounding from a slump caused by depressed prices for a number of commodities during the 2014-2019 period. A shift in the product mix toward higher value products like TPVs, hydrogenated SBCs, and smaller volume specialty types will push up average prices. This will be most evident in the SBC segment, which will see the fastest price gains.

Further pricing growth will be restrained by:

  • increasing production capacity in developing regions such as China, where low manufacturing costs result in lower prices for TPE materials
  • TPE manufacturers taking advantage of low-cost feedstocks in the Middle East (inexpensive oil) and the US (shale gas)

Demand by Elastomer Type

Demand fell in 2020 due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, but larger losses were limited by the use of adhesives, sealants, and coatings in packaging applications and nonwovens, which were affected to a lesser extent than construction uses. By 2021, demand will return to pre-pandemic levels.

Rising demand for TPEs in hot melt adhesives in packaging tape and labels, as well as in nonwoven disposables, will be driven by such factors as:

  • SBCs’ high cohesive strength, low application viscosity, ease of mixing, transparency, and good heat stability, in addition to their compatibility with a wide range of tackifiers, oils, and plasticizers
  • POEs’ bonding strength, durability, ease of application, and low odor, as well as use as a performance additive in other hot melt adhesives
  • TPUs’ excellent adhesion, flexibility, superior chemical resistance, ability to be tailored to specific applications, and amenability to rapid processing speeds

However, SBCs will face functional competition from acrylic hot melt adhesives, which possess similar performance properties. In addition, TPU sales gains in this market will be tempered by the material’s high price relative to competitive materials.

Tapes & Labels

The bond strength of elastomeric adhesives is relatively low, but they have high flexibility, making them a good choice for use in tapes and labels, particularly those made to fit unusual shapes such as those encountered in motor vehicle or appliance manufacturing. TPE adhesives can be used on a variety of substrates, widening their applicability. In addition, the low cost of elastomeric products compared to competitive products will support demand. However, further gains will be restrained by:

  • competition from synthetic adhesives such as acrylics, butyl rubber, and epoxies, and water-activated tapes
  • increased competition for corrugated boxes from flexible packaging shipping options

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