Methylal, also known as dimethoxymethane is a transparent liquid, which is used in a wide range of applications. The compound has favorable physical and chemical properties such as good solubility in water and other solvents, and low boiling point. The compound is often used as a plasticizing agent for resins, and as fast evaporating solvents. It is extensively used in products such as medicines, pesticides, leather brighteners, printing inks, paints, and cosmetics. It is also finds major application as blowing agent in the manufacturing of PU foams.
Methylal is manufactured by oxidizing methanol or through reaction of formaldehyde and methanol. The primary drivers of the methylal market are pharmaceuticals and paints and coatings industries. These industries consume the bulk of methylal due to its low toxicity, high solvent power and low viscosity. The demand for methylal has grown steadily in the recent past owing to the strong growth exhibited by the pharmaceutical market. It is also extensively used to manufacture cosmetics. The regulations regarding use of volatile organic compounds in cosmetics have paved the way for methylal. Its non toxicity and anti carcinogenic nature is the desirable attributes which drive the adoption of methylal over traditional organic solvents. The high growth in the plastic foam insulation market is also expected to drive the growth for blowing agents. Methylal being one the key blowing agents is expected to gain a considerable market due to this application. The use of methylal as chemical intermediate for the manufacturing of polyacetal and ion –exchange resins has accounted for a substantial demand for methylal.
Although methylal is a compound which displays low toxicity, its use is governed by certain environmental regulations. Short term exposure to methylal can cause skin and eye irritation, along with nausea and dizzy headedness. Occupational exposure to methylal can lead to severe health damage and proper precautions such as impervious protective clothing, face masks and respirators must be undertaken to reduce the effects of methylal. End use industries as well as manufacturers need to take precautions, so as to minimize the environmental leakage of methylal. Methylal also faces some challenges on the supply front due to its ever increasing demand.
The market opportunity for methylal is the adoption of the compound as a blowing agent in emerging nations such as Brazil, China and India. As per the Montreal Protocol adopted in 2009, the U.S. along with other developed economies has a target of gradually phasing out HCFC by predetermined dates. South American countries and Asia Pacific countries are the regions where huge opportunities exist for application of methylal as blowing agents for PU foams. The potential of methylal as an automotive fuel and diesel modification additive has been noticed and extensive research has been undertaken. Methylal being a derivative product of coal chemicals and natural gas could be a sustainable solution for the depleting petroleum resources.
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Asia Pacific region is the largest market for methylal, as most of the global manufacturing activities are visible in this region. Asia Pacific is also the largest producer of methylal, with China leading the production. Demand for methylal from North America and Europe have increased sharply in the recent past and the trend is expected to continue, as these regions cut back on VOC emissions. INEOS Paraform recently started manufacturing methylal in their Germany plant, in the anticipation of increased market demand.