Isobutene or 2-methylpropene is a colorless and volatile liquid and a downstream derivative of crude oil. It is produced during the fractionation process of refinery gasses and by means of catalytic cracking of methyl-t-butyl ether. Isobutene is an important chemical and is used in a variety of applications ranging from fuel additives and polymers to pharmaceuticals and agriculture industries. The annual global production of isobutene exceeds 10 million metric tons.
The primary driver for the isobutene market is the growing aerospace market as well as the growing demand for rubber from automotive market. Isobutene is the source of polyisobutene which is the precursor chemical for the production of fuel and lubricant additives. Isobutene is added to methanol to produce MTBE (Methyl Tert-Butyl Ether) and with ethanol to produce ETBE (Ethyl Tert-Butyl Ether) which are the main types of fuel additives in the market. Isobutene is added to isobutene to produce isooctane, which is a fuel additive used in the aviation fuel. It is extensively used in the manufacturing process of rubber used to produce tires and tubes for the automotive industry. Apart from these the chemical is used to manufacture fine chemicals, plastics and anti-oxidants which account for a substantial market demand for isobutene. The growth of the end use markets is expected to drive the market for isobutene. Evonik Industries recently increased the production capacity by three times in their manufacturing facility at Antwerp, Belgium in anticipation of growing demand of the chemical globally and in order to establish themselves as a leading producer of isobutene in Europe.
Although isobutene finds application in a range of end use industries, it is susceptible to price fluctuations from source. As it is a downstream derivative of crude oil, the price volatility of crude oil directly affects the isobutene market. Moreover isobutene is highly regulated chemical owing to its toxic properties and stringent measures need to be followed to prevent leakage in the atmosphere. Bio based isobutene has gained acceptance and it is likely to grow at a fast pace, and gradually replace petroleum based isobutene. Global Bioenergies SA is a company which has made significant contributions towards developing bio alternative to the conventional process. The company has developed and patented a process to convert carbohydrates to isobutene through the process of fermentation. Global Bioenergies SA has recently set up their second isobutene manufacturing plant in Germany. With the global paradigm shift towards sustainable bio-based alternatives to fossil fuel, the technology is expected to catch up and reap long term benefits.
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North America accounts for the maximum demand of isobutene in the world followed by Asia Pacific and Europe. However the market growth prospects are the highest in Asia Pacific region, owing to the increasing demand from China. China is also one of the major manufacturers of isobutene in the world. Japan accounts for a substantial volume demand of isobutene. Although MTBE has been banned in few countries such as the U.S. and Japan, its demand is South America and Middle East has witnessed growth amidst concerns over air pollution and ground water contamination threats.
Some of the major players in the isobutene market are Evonik Industries, BASF SE, Global Bioenergies SA, Exxon Mobil Chemicals and ABI Chemicals among many others.