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issue: January 2005 APPLIANCE Magazine

Materials Forecast 2005
Refrigerator Issues

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by David Simpson, Contributing Editor

As refrigerators and other appliances continue to feature improved energy efficiency, polyurethane (PU) insulation has played an important role. Unfortunately, as with other materials, it was unable to escape turmoil.

“Since the beginning of 2004, we have seen a lot of pressures on both finished systems and raw materials,” says Todd Keske, IT and marketing manager of Foam Supplies, Inc. (Earth City, MO, U.S.). “The PU industry is experiencing unprecedented growth led by China, and some of the raw materials are being diverted to other industries that offer higher profit margins for the manufacturers. Since the major raw material suppliers have not been able to get their prices up in recent years, they have not invested in increased capacity. The result is unforeseen demand; limited capacity equals opportunity for higher profits. Throw into this the escalating costs in benzene, natural gas, and propylene, and you end up with price increases on a monthly basis.”

Mr. Keske believes that costs will continue to rise until the demand lessens. “I do not believe that we will see significant shortages, but I think the supply will be very tight,” he explains. “Inventory management will be crucial to uninterrupted production. I don’t believe the growth our industry is seeing now is sustainable.”

Given the tight supply, any new capacity is welcome. One $1-billion project in Shanghai, China includes BASF, Huntsman, and other partners. It has a planned capacity of 240,000 metric tons per year of crude MDI and 160,000 metric tons per year of TDI, supplying the rapidly growing local market for the products by 2006. China’s polyurethane market growth over the next 12 years is expected to be 10 percent annually.

Looking at refrigerants, David Metcalf, marketing manager for refrigerants at Honeywell (Morristown, NJ, U.S.), notes there have been some supply issues with R-134A and a price increase. This refrigerant is used in refrigerators in some regions, as well as in cars. “Some suppliers have been eliminating potential capacity, apparently since they feel they can make more money by converting plants to other uses,” he says. “We expect to see some new Chinese capacity come on line, but probably not significantly in the next 12 months.”

Mr. Metcalf also sees some tightness in R-22, although he adds that supply is better than a year ago. “There have been significant cost increases because of raw material, energy, and transportation,” he explains. “Even the steel containers are costing more. Where possible, we have passed on the additional costs to our customers. While R-22 is being phased out in emissive applications, there is growing demand for it as a feed stock for polymers such as PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene).”

For R-410A, he sees a continued regulatory-driven shift into it in Europe and Japan, and the U.S. is slowly converting. “We have seen some spot supply problems,” Mr. Metcalf says, “but these seem mostly to be tied to planning issues with certain equipment manufacturers.”

Materials Forecast 2005

Suppliers mentioned in this article:
Foam Supplies Inc.
Honeywell Specialty Materials

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