Published December 2017
Styrene-butadiene elastomers (SBR) are the largest-volume synthetic rubber in the world. SBR is produced through the copolymerization of butadiene with styrene at a ratio of approximately 3:1. There are two major types of SBR—emulsion and solution. Emulsion SBR (ESBR) continues to lose ground to solution SBR (SSBR), which is better suited to meet the increasingly stringent specifications of high-performance tires. Nevertheless, emulsion SBR grades still account for about 74% of total world capacity as of 2017. However, as most new SBR capacity additions are based on the solution SBR process, the share of emulsion SBR will likely decrease by the end of the forecast period in 2022.
The tire industry is the dominant consumer of SBR, accounting for more than 75–80% of total demand in 2017. Apart from this, SBR is also used in nontire automotive applications, conveyor belts, industrial hoses, various molded and extruded rubber goods, footwear, and other consumer goods. Some grades of SBR, those that are waterproof and free from impurities, are also utilized in the cable industry.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of styrene-butadiene elastomers:
In the past five years, global consumption of emulsion SBR has declined slightly, driven down by the decline of the largest consumer, China. The most significant growth during 2012–17 was registered in the Indian Subcontinent and Taiwan. ESBR consumption declined in most markets—especially in Western Europe, the CIS/Baltic States, and South Korea, in addition to China, and stagnated in many others—the United States, Southeast Asia, Japan, and Central Europe. Overall, the major consuming regions in 2017 were China (accounting for about 27% of global consumption), the United States (14%), Southeast Asia, and the Indian Subcontinent.
In 2017, global consumption of solution SBR is estimated to be more than 40% higher than in 2012. In the last five years, global consumption of SSBR has increased by more than 7% per year. Global SSBR capacity, however, has increased at a faster rate; this has widened the gap between capacity and consumption during 2012–17 and led to reduced operating rates. The largest capacity additions were seen in Southeast Asia (Singapore and Thailand), Central Europe, China, and South Korea. China remains the largest consumer of solution SBR, at about 23% of the global total in 2017, surpassing Western Europe, the United States, and Japan.
Considering the large amount of SBR that is being consumed in the manufacture of tires and tire products, SBR consumption is very much dependent on the automotive industry and tire sectors as a whole. The growing use of lowrolling-resistance tires to reduce fuel consumption and decrease CO2 emissions is expected to increase SBR consumption. Since these performance improvements cannot be achieved with emulsion SBR, the shift toward increasing use of solution SBR will continue, reflected in average growth of nearly 4% per year for SSBR over the next five years, compared with only 2% per year for ESBR.
While the highest average annual growth rates are projected for some of the smaller markets—the Middle East (about 5%) and the CIS and Baltic States (about 4%)—the largest increases in total SBR consumption will likely be seen in Asian markets, including the Indian Subcontinent, China, Southeast Asia, and South Korea. Rather limited consumption growth is forecast for some of the mature markets such as Western Europe, Canada, and Japan. Overall, total SBR consumption is expected to increase at 2–3% per year in 2017–22.