Blowing agents are widely used as additives in the polymeric foam industry. They are used as a part of the production process mainly to lend certain desired properties to polymeric foam. The importance of blowing agents is steadily rising for companies as the demand for low-cost foam products rises.
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Blowing agents play a crucial role by helping to induce a specific cellular structure to the foamed material. This helps reduce the density of the foam, improve its acoustic and thermal insulation abilities, and also improve the relative toughness of the original material. Blowing agents can lend the desired characteristics to a myriad of materials. These characteristics could range from light-weighting, heat insulation, and sound absorbency to elasticity, permeability, electrical insulation and shock absorbency.
One of the most widely used blowing agents were chloro fluoro carbons (CFC’s). However, they were phased out because of their harmful effects on the ozone layer. While developing new products with similar or better functionality than CFC’s, players have to face several challenges such as the impact of the products on the environment and getting suppliers who can supply them with the requisite materials seamlessly among others.
Increasing demand for polymeric foams, especially polyurethane foams, owing to rapid development in their end-user industries such as construction and appliances is driving the demand for blowing agents. Additionally, high growth of end use industries in Asia Pacific is anticipated to further fuel the demand for blowing agents. However, stringent environmental regulations regarding chemicals used as blowing agents might hamper the growth. Development of new environment friendly biobased products for utility as blowing agents might bring future prospective opportunities for market growth.
The major types of blowing agents that find use in the industry are: Hydrocarbons (HCs), hydro-chloro-fluoro-carbons (HCFCs), and hydro-fluoro-carbons (HFCs). Of these, hydrocarbons currently stand as the dominant product segment. Among hydrocarbons, butanes and pentanes are the most common blowing agents used. HCFCs have been gradually phased out in industrialized nations. In many other developing regions as well, HCFCs are being phased out gradually because of their reported adverse effects such as Ozone Depletion Potential (ODP) and Global Warming Potential (GWP). This has in turn led several companies to develop and launch alternative blowing agents that are environment friendly.
Among the key foams that see the utilization of such blowing agents are: Polyurethane foam, polystyrene foam, phenolic foam, and polyolefin foam. The polyurethane foam industry makes use of all types of blowing agents and as a result, holds a major share in the market. Owing to its wide range of applications in chemicals, construction and automotive industries, demand for polyurethane products is rising at a high growth rate, which, eventually, generates demand for blowing agents.
Currently, Asia Pacific is estimated to be the largest market for blowing agents worldwide. It is also the fastest growing blowing agents market. The region consumed well over 50% of the blowing agents produced worldwide. It stands as one of the leading consumers of foam insulated products. China is among the top blowing agent consumers in Asia Pacific. Moreover, other Asian countries such as India and South Korea also generate considerable for blowing agents thanks to high industrial production levels. Mature markets in North America and Europe are expected to witness a relatively slower growth in demand for blowing agents. Additionally, these regions are at the forefront of the initiatives taken towards sustainable growth practices to protect the environment.
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The market place is dominated by a few global players with major market share. However there are a large number of small and medium sized players, especially in Asia Pacific, competing for the market share with aggressive pricing schemes. Leading manufacturers in the blowing agents market include E. I. DuPont de Nemours and Company, Arkema SA, Haltermann GmbH, Foam Supplies Inc, Solvay SA and Honeywell International Ltd.