UHMWPE - The Industry Revival 2011

STA*Research - Specialist consultants on polyolefins What's New What We Do Specialties Biography UHMWPE 2011 Bimodal PE

Opportunities in UHMW-PE: The Industry Revival

STA*Research and EnerChemTek first published their detailed and ground-breaking report "Opportunities in Ultra-High Molecular Weight Polyethylene" in January 2008. This new "Industry Revival" edition of the study updates and considerably expands the earlier report, approximately doubling the content to include detailed analysis of key markets that are driving demand growth. 

What is UHMW-PE?

UHMW-PE is a polyolefin resin closely related to high density polyethylene that can be classed as a specialty engineering plastic.  It is an indispensable product in world markets having an incomparable combination of abrasion resistance, surface lubricity and impact strength, combined with the excellent chemical properties of HDPE.  It competes primarily with polyacetal, nylon, PTFE and, in fiber form, with polyaramid, but it also has many markets that are uniquely its own.

The Need For This Study 

This study is designed to support strategic decision-making in companies that both produce and use UHMW-PE, and similar companies considering entry into the industry.

UHMW-PE Producers & Prospective Producers. As global HDPE markets trend toward commoditization, HDPE producers must strive to find new strategies to differentiate their products and maintain overall net margins.  Because the technology to make UHMW-PE is closely related to that for making HDPE, UHMW-PE becomes a potential avenue to the creation of new niche markets that will contribute to improved overall profitability.  There are several challenges in supply of UHMW-PE, however, including the creation and servicing of UHMW-PE markets, product design, and the match to market needs.

UHMW-PE Processors & End-Users. Global markets for UHMW-PE are in the process of rapid change with the advent of new and large application sectors, particularly for high modulus fibers and porous membranes. UHMW-PE fiber is one of the three so-called super-fibers (with aramids and carbon fibers) that are in ever increasing demand, and UHMW-PE porous membranes are the preferred substrates for battery separators, including large format batteries for electric vehicles and energy storage for renewable energy systems & smart grids. These new demand sectors will have a significant impact on global UHMW-PE supply and demand, and therefore perhaps also on pricing and availability. Existing and new processors and end-users need to be aware of these effects and the associated threats and opportunities.

Scope Of The Study

This report analyses the global UHMW-PE industry with the objectives of defining new business opportunities for new and existing suppliers as well as processors and end-users.  It covers both technological and market aspects, with particular emphasis on fibers and porous membranes, the two large new markets that are reviving global growth, and including:

  • Global demand and market outlook by application sector and processing technique
  • Global supply by producer and plant, including producer profiles & apparent strategies
  • Production technology and production economics, including reviews of recent patent literature
  • Review of developments in product and application technologies, including emerging technologies
  • Industry structure and distribution channels
  • Key factors for success in supply of UHMW-PE

This new edition, completed in April 2011, contains over 330 pages of data and analysis of the industry, about double the size of the previous version, expanding the depth and detail while retaining a similar comprehensive scope: industry structure & the competitive environment, resin supply and demand, demand drivers & restraints, production economics and profitability, manufacturing and processing technologies, recent technology developments and the technology outlook, applications and market outlook & growth, supplier profiles, capacities & product portfolios, opportunity forecast, key factors for success.

The specific points of emphasis and additions to scope in the new "Industry Revival" edition, compared to the 2008 edition, are much more detailed analyses of fiber, porous membrane & medical application markets, and updates to supplier profiles, as follows:

Developments in Conversion Technologies & Application Markets

The new study expands the discussion of key processing techniques, including a review of recent important patents and developments in application markets, with particular emphasis on the following:

  • High modulus fiber applications such as anti-ballistic armor, cut protection, ropes & cordage, and other developing fiber applications
    • Global UHMW-PE fiber capacity doubled between 2005 and 2010 and will double again within a decade
    • Six independent fiber producers have entered the market in the last decade in China alone, plus others in the rest of the world
  • Porous membranes, in particular the rapidly developing market for battery separators
    • Demand for large format batteries for automobiles could add 40% to the total global demand for batteries of all types by 2020
    • UHMW-PE is a preferred material for battery separators for lead-acid and Li-ion batteries of all sizes
  • Medical grades & prosthetics applications such as total joint arthroplasty and total spine arthroplasty
    • Total Orthopedic replacements & revisions in the United States alone are expected to increase by 300% within the next decade
  • Industrial piping 

Global Demand & Key Players

The new study updates our global demand analysis and expands our coverage of suppliers, their product portfolios and apparent strategies. Three new producers have entered the industry in the last 3 years, and, given the attractiveness of the opportunity, more are likely to follow in the coming decades.

See the Table of Contents of the 2011 Industry Revival study

See the prospectus for the original 2008 Opportunities in UHMW-PE study 

For more information, please visit the EnerChemTek web-site or contact us at staresearch@juno.com (949)-600-6546 or mdavila@enerchemtek.com (416)232-0320