Styrene Butadiene Rubber (SBR) is a general-purpose synthetic rubber, made from a copolymer of styrene and butadiene. SBR is composed of about 75% butadiene and 25% styrene. These components are copolymerized in an emulsion process to produce SBR. SBR is an outcome of synthetic rubber research undertaken in Europe and US due to natural rubber scarcity during World Wars I and II. SBR’s advantages include abrasion and crack resistance, and better aging characteristics as compared to natural rubber.
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Commercial SBR is of two types – Solution (S-SBR) or Emulsion (E-SBR). In S-SBR the process of polymerization is initiated by free radical whereas in E-SBR by an alkyl lithium compound. The global SBR market stood at more than 5,000 kilo tons in 2013 and is forecast to grow up to more than 7000 kilo tons by 2020. The key growth driver would be the considerable demand for S-SBR from the tire market. However, price volatility of raw materials especially butadiene will restrain growth.
Global SBR market can be segmented on the basis of product, application and geography as follows –
Although E-SBR is being used at present, the future is bright for S-SBR which is more suitable for tires – the most significant application segment. The real game-changer for S-SBR has been the imposition of labeling regulations on tire manufacturers by various countries like Japan, India, China, Brazil, US and South Korea, as well as the EU. There is growing demand for ‘green tires’ that offer environmental sustainability, fuel efficiency and durability. Tire makers are now required to label tires for wet grip, fuel efficiency and external rolling noise. S-SBR is the only product that offers required levels of fuel efficiency and wet grip. The tire industry accounted for more than 80% of the total global demand for S-SBR in 2013. This is expected to grow further by 2020.
Major application segments include tire, footwear, polymer modification, adhesives, construction, insulation and carpet overlay. Tire, with a market share of more than 70%, led the application segment in 2013. The growth in automobile industry in manufacturing centers like China, India and Brazil is leading to rising global demand for tires and therefore SBR.
Footwear followed tires in application in 2013. Favorable properties of SBR such as better abrasion resistance lead to its inclusion in manufacturing high performance sports footwear. Sports footwear is likely to witness increased demand in future owing to rising income levels, especially in emerging economies. This will in turn propel growth of SBR. Niche application segments like polymer modification, adhesives and insulation are expected to witness average growth.
Asia Pacific region experienced a linear growth in the past few years, which is likely to continue in future. SBR market in this region accounted for more than 45% in 2013. The positive outlook is mainly due to strong growth potential of infrastructure in China and India. Low labor and other operating costs have led to several large tire businesses from North America and Europe to move their production bases to Asia Pacific countries. Furthermore, rising middle-class population, higher disposable incomes and steady economic growth in India, China, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia will propel market growth. Another important driver will be high emphasis of nations on environment-friendly and recyclable products such as ‘green tires’. India will soon follow China in implementing tire labeling regulations.
Europe followed Asia Pacific in consumption of SBR in 2013. Key automobile manufacturers in Germany and Italy will generate future demand. EU tire labeling regulations that were introduced in 2012 will drive demand, chiefly for S-SBR, in the immediate future.
Key market players of the global SBR industry are Lanxess AG, Bridgestone Corporation, Michelin, CNPC, etc. The industry is characterized by forward integration with petrochemical businesses engaged in all stages of the value chain. The global SBR market is fragmented with top ten companies contributing to less than 70% of the total demand. Investments, expansions, technological research & development, and new product introductions are important industry activities. Tire companies such as Michelin and Bridgestone Corporation are leading players in the global S-SBR market.
Information Source: Grand View Research