Demand Outpacing Ethanolamine Supply


Operational problems at several ethanolamine plants have been resolved, bringing an end to allocations that have beset buyers. Nevertheless, sources say the market has undergone fundamental changes that will cause availability of these popular corrosion inhibitors to remain tight for the foreseeable future.

Mono-, di- and triethanolamines are used in a variety of applications, including metalworking fluids and other industrial lubricants where they help prevent rust. Monoethanolamines are also used in biocides. Major ethanolamine producers include Dow Chemical, Ineos, Huntsman and BASF.

Supply of ethanolamines was severely pinched during the spring when three different plants – two owned by Dow, one by Ineos – shut down temporarily. Sources said more than one supplier put customers on allocation, with allowances ranging between 50 percent and 80 percent of normal orders.

The troubled plants have begun operating again and suppliers have lifted allocations or are in the process of doing so. However, observers warn thatdoes not mean the market is returning to normal. Or, to put it better, normal in the ethanolamine market will not be what it was seven months ago.

For one thing, demand is up, thanks to improved economic activity throughout much of the world. In addition, there is a huge new draw on monoethanolamines – for use in pressure-treated lumber after the United States decided late last year to outlaw wood preservatives containing chrome. Sources say demand for monoethanolamine in wood preservatives easily exceeds volumes used in the lubricant industry.

The problem going forward is that now you have this other huge market that is competing for ethanolamine molecules, said a representative at one chemical distributor, who spoke on condition of anonymity. So even though plants have come back online, its not as though the market is going to be flush in these materials.

As dire as some descriptions sound, it appears that some lubricant industry users of ethanolamines were not terriblyhurt by the tightening of the market. Sources said large purchasers buying from suppliers that did not suffer plant shutdowns may have avoided allocations. Smaller companies depending on single suppliers were more likely to have been affected.

It does appear that most, perhaps all, users are now paying higher prices for ethanolamines, as sources reported markups by all major suppliers. Buyers and chemical distributors said they expectprices to remain high andusers will have little choice but to pay them.

There arent a whole lot of alternatives, said an official with one lubricant blender. You could switch to a different kind of amine, like isopropanolamine, but thats already quite a bit more expensive. I think the industry is just stuck with it for now.

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