Phenolic resins are essentially synthetic polymers formed by the reaction of phenol and formaldehyde under the influence of heat. Phenolic resins have several desirable physical properties such as high heat resistance, high tensile strength, good moldability, light weight and low toxicity of smoke. Phenolic resins are employed in a variety of applications such as wood-adhesives, laminates, molding compounds, rubber, and insulation among others. Owing to the favorable physical and chemical properties, phenolic resins have found application in niche segments such as mass-transit, and off-shore oil drilling, which requires materials with high heat resistance.
On the basis of product type, phenolic resins can be segmented into resol resins, novolac resins and others. Resol resins are manufactured under basic conditions with excess formaldehyde, while novolac resins are manufactured under acidic conditions with excess phenol. North America, Asia Pacific and Europe are the main markets for phenolic resins and account for over 90% of the total demand for phenolic resins.
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Resol resin was the largest product segment for phenolic resins in 2012 with a global market share of over 48%. A Novolac resin also accounted for a significant proportion of the global demand and is the fastest growing product segment, deriving demand from the growing molded composites market as well as the laminates market. The applications of phenolic resins have become specialized over the years due to the emergence of other color stable thermostats such as PVS and melamine, and are often custom manufactured to suit the end application.
Wood-adhesive was the largest application segment for phenolic resins and is expected continue in that position in the foreseeable future. The remarkable growth in the building and construction industry in the Asia Pacific and improving scenario in North America has propelled the demand for wood adhesive. Laminates, however, is expected to be the fastest growing application for phenolic resins, owing to the demand for decorative laminates and industrial laminates world-wide. Molding compounds is another application which is expected to register high growth with the increase in application scope. Use of phenolic molding compounds in automotive, marine and off-shore applications has contributed to the growth in this segment. The incremental usage of phenolic molding compounds in automotives in order to reduce fuel consumption and vehicle mass is a driver for phenolic molding compounds.
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In 2012, Asia Pacific had the highest demand for phenolic resins followed by North America. These two geographies cumulatively accounted for more than 65% of the global demand. Asia Pacific is host to several manufacturing countries such as China and India. Moreover the rising dispensable income of the region has attributed to the consumption of phenolic resins through various end-industries. Rest of the World regions are expected to grow at the swiftest pace, primarily owing to the high growth opportunity of the applications in this region.
The phenolic resins industry is highly fragmented and dominated by regional players. Some of the major global players include BASF SE, Mitsui Chemicals Inc., Sumitomo Bakelite Co., Ltd., and Georgia Pacific Chemicals LLC among many others. There are several medium sized players in the regional markets.
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Growth and expansion initiatives have been undertaken by various companies to thrive in the market. BASF SE expanded its production capacity by 50% at the Ludwigshafen manufacturing facility in order to cater to the high growth tire market. Georgia Pacific Chemicals LLC and Kolon Industries Inc, expressed their intent to invest in new production facilities of phenolic resins, while Hitachi Chemicals invested in a new plant in Thailand in anticipation of demand growth from the automotive sector.
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