Technological watch

PIE extends price reporting to include grey EPS / Slight growth expected for the EPS segment as a whole / Consolidation in the processing sector / Impulses for recycling

PIE extends price reporting to include grey EPS / Slight growth expected for the EPS segment as a whole / Consolidation in the processing sector / Impulses for recyclingIn the last few years, the importance of grey EPS has increased on the expanded polystyrene market. In the course of this development, prices of the grey material have become increasingly independent from white EPS prices. While grey EPS has generally been sold with a fixed surcharge, sellers nowadays are tending to adapt prices to the material's own supply and demand situation. For this reason, Plasteurope.com has started reporting on grey EPS insulation materials in the latest styrenics price report (see Plasteurope.com of 05.02.2019).
Grey EPS is used mainly in insulation applications in the building industry, especially for façades but also, to a lesser extent, for the flat roof sector. Through the addition of graphite particles as infrared absorbers and reflectors, the material allows the production of insulation panels with better thermal protection than conventional white EPS. This means architects and builders can use thinner panels, opening up wider design options. In addition, the reduced raw materials consumption brings cost benefits that considerably outweigh the higher kilogram price of grey EPS. Demand for grey EPS gained significantly when, a few years ago, major system manufacturers such as Brillux, Weber and Sto switched their EPS range for thermal insulation systems either largely or completely to grey material. Market experts today estimate the share of grey EPS in the façade segment, which should account for around a quarter of the total EPS market, at somewhere between 50-70%.

The prices for both grey and white EPS are exposed to the high level of volatility of the key feedstock, styrene. The price difference between the two ? at one time EUR 300/t and more ? has declined in the last few years. This development was brought about primarily by losses in the façade customer segment as well as temporary bottlenecks in the supply of white EPS.
The differences between the grey EPS products themselves have also become smaller. Initially, producers used either graphite or carbon black as the infrared absorber, but after patents expired, there was a clear trend towards the more effective graphite ? for example, in the case of European EPS market leader Synthos (Oswiecim / Poland; www.synthosgroup.com/en/), which converted a large amount of its production ? see Plasteurope.com of 05.01.2018. As a result, both the prices and the quality of grey EPS insulation materials moved closer together. However, the differences are still significantly larger than with white EPS, as are the corresponding Plasteurope.com ranges. The reason for this lies in the various production processes by extrusion or suspension and ? derived from this ? the very different graphite contents. Major European suppliers of grey EPS alongside Synthos are BASF (Ludwigshafen / Germany; www.basf.com), Sunpor (St. Pölten / Austria; www.sunpor.at), Total (Paris / France; www.total.com) and Versalis (Milan / Italy; www.versalis.eni.com). These are also the biggest suppliers of white EPS. According to PIE's Polyglobe database (www.polyglobe.net), they account for around 70% of the total European EPS capacities of just under 2m t/y (excluding Russia and Turkey).Slight growth after long downward slideIndustry players questioned by Plasteurope.com estimate the proportion of grey EPS on the German EPS market at 20-30%. No authoritative data are available for this or for total EPS consumption. According to market players? estimates, consumption in 2018 ranged from nearly 200,000 t to 240,000 t. Of this, packaging materials accounted for 35,000 t to 40,000 t ? here, grey EPS plays only a very minor role. The total EPS market in Germany stabilised in 2017 and 2018 after several years of heavy decline. For 2019, the German industry association for rigid foams, Industrieverband Hartschaum (IVH, Berlin; www.ivh.de), anticipates growth in the low single-digit percentages. As before, positive effects are coming above all from housing construction ? while fewer private homes are being built, construction of multi-storey buildings is booming. Companies from the EPS segment nevertheless feel that the ongoing problems with logistics ? see Plasteurope.com of 24.10.2018 ? and the shortage of skilled staff are putting a brake on future growth.
The declining sales volumes on the EPS market as a whole over the last few years have affected mainly insulation materials. Although the roof, floor (heat and sound insulation) and perimeter segments have developed reasonably well, the façade segment has been hit particularly hard by weak demand for energy-related refurbishment, and, in terms of volume demand, is still well below its former level. IVH board member Christian Grimm says that the harsh, often incorrect criticism of EPS in the media has left its mark. In order to eliminate high-running emotions from the debate and provide public discussion with sound principles and studies, several players from industry and research in 2018 established a German-language ?FDSE? forum for safe EPS insulation (www.mit-sicherheit-eps.de).Increasing consolidation in processing sectorAmong the important changes to the European EPS market in 2018 was the widespread consolidation in the processing segment. Hirsch Servo (Glanegg / Austria; www.hirsch-gruppe.com) took over Saint-Gobain Rigips? EPS insulation material business ? see Plasteurope.com of 07.02.2018 ? and then a majority holding of IsoBouw. As a result, the company, which until then focused primarily on central and eastern European markets, acquired seven plants in Germany. Even though Hirsch Servo consequently sold the Liesborn / Germany plant to competitor Bachl (Röhrnbach / Germany; www.bachl.de) due to its proximity to another site, the company through these transactions became the largest EPS processor in the German-speaking region. Several market players told Plasteurope.com that they consider further consolidation in the processing sector quite probable.
Mono-material structure EPS can be easily returned to the production cycle (Photo: FSDE)The industry is also focusing more and more on recycling. A large volume of EPS waste is still not being recycled in line with its potential, or is being disposed of together with other debris during the demolition of buildings. Some of the waste is also being incinerated. Recycling clean EPS waste, either from the packaging segment or from building site debris, is worthwhile, but often approaches logistical limitations due to the large volumes that have to be transported. Another alternative is to use it as a filling for heat insulation layers or levelling courses in the building segment. For economic reasons alone, reusing materials from the production process has been common practice for years.Recycling of EPS waste containing hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD)The PolyStyreneLoop (PSL, Etten-Leur / The Netherlands; www.polystyreneloop.org) initiative, which targets HBCD-containing EPS and XPS from building waste, promises to create additional potential. It is aimed at recovering polystyrene and bromine by using the solvent-based "CreaSolv" process. For this purpose, PSL is building a pilot plant at Terneuzen / The Netherlands, which the IVH reports will begin operations in Q3 2019. If everything goes to plan, additional larger plants could then be built throughout Europe. In November 2017, PSL estimated that around 20m t of HBCD-containing EPS and XPS waste will be produced within the EU in the next 50 years ? see Plasteurope.com of 28.11.2017.
Alongside the PSL industry initiative, there are several other approaches. A number of producers have created a platform called Styrenics Circular Solutions (SCS, Brussels / Belgium; www.styrenics-circular-solutions.com) ? see Plasteurope.com of 18.12.2018 ? in order to promote recycling solutions for styrenics and support a circular economy, and producers such as BASF are looking at the recycling of mixed plastic packaging waste, including EPS, by pyrolysis ? see Plasteurope.com of 21.11.2018. It will also be interesting to see how much stimulus comes from the newly created Alliance to End Plastic Waste (www.endplasticwaste.org), a global initiative launched by a number of key companies ? see Plasteurope.com of 17.01.2019.
Several industry players therefore strongly criticise the draft EU directive on the ban of certain single-use plastic products, which classifies beverage and food containers made of EPS as non-recyclable ? see Plasteurope.com of 03.01.2019. Considerable censure of the draft directive also came from, among others, Germany and France's plastic packaging industry associations Industrievereinigung Kunststoffverpackungen (IK, Bad Homburg; www.kunststoffverpackungen.de) and Elipso (Paris; www.elipso.org), respectively, as well as European Plastics Converters (EuPC, Brussels; www.plasticsconverters.eu).
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Publication date: 05/02/2019

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