CONSTANCE, Germany - Thermoplastic elastomers (TPE) are as elastic as rubber, but at the same time as easy to process as standard plastics. "TPE can be melted, repeatedly deformed and recycled," explains Oliver Kutsch, CEO of the market research institute Ceresana. "Therefore, thermoplastic elastomers are among the materials enjoying the most dynamic development. Spreading from the automotive industry, they increasingly replace conventional materials." According to a recent study by Ceresana, about $16.7 billion were generated with the sale of TPE on the world market in 2014. The market researchers forecast revenues to increase by, on average, 4.7% per annum until 2022. TPE are also interesting because they can be manufactured from renewable resources.

From Shoe Soles to Bumpers

The largest sales market for thermoplastic elastomers is the automotive industry: this branch consumed about 40% of total production. The applications of the various, highly diverse classes of TPE cover segments such as fabric coating and sealing components as well as bumpers. TPE are also increasingly used in the construction industry, machine construction, medical technology and other industrial branches. Further important applications include shoe soles, sporting goods, but also toys and household devices.

Diverse Classes for Diverse Applications

The market shares of individual types of TPE vary widely from country to country. This is mainly due to the differing size of sales branches and the difference in quality standards and price levels. Worldwide, the most commonly used type of TPE is the group of styrene block copolymers (SBC) with applications ranging from adhesive admixtures to asphalt modification in road construction. The second-largest TPE market comprises thermoplastic polyolefins (TPO), which are mainly used in the automotive industry. Thermoplastic polyurethanes (TPU) are, amongst others, processed into door handles for cars, ski boots or cable sheathing. The company forecasts the highest future growth rates will be for thermoplastic vulcanizates (TPV) that are used for products such as hoses and sealings.

Largest Economies Dominating the Market

China, the United States, Japan and Germany are the four largest consumers of thermoplastic elastomers; they accounted for about 63% of global TPE demand in 2014. Ceresana forecasts the highest growth rates for Asia-Pacific and South America, China, India, and Brazil. Even consumption on established markets in North America and Western Europe will increase by at least 2% per annum in the future. The continuous rise of demand is attracting many new producers, especially in Asia. China alone increased its TPE output by more than 600,000 metric tons in the last eight years.

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