Natural polymer demand is expected to grow at 6% pa to US$5 billion in 2012, reaching 2.3 billion pounds, as per a report by Reportlinker. Gains will be stimulated by increased levels of food production, and opportunities in packaging, oilfield, medical, cosmetic/ toiletry and other areas. Average natural polymer prices are expected to decrease slightly based on declining prices for starch and fermentation products. Prices of other natural polymers will be moderated by the commodity nature of most materials and the dominance of price over other considerations. Threats to further growth include mature applications and variable supplies for products such as guar gum due to climatic and political uncertainties. With many natural polymers harvested offshore, such as carrageenan and gum arabic, imports will constitute a growing share of domestic demand.
Best opportunities are anticipated for starch and fermentation products, followed by exudate and vegetable gums, and marine and protein polymers. Starch and fermentation product demand will grow at a double-digit pace to nearly US$1.1 bln in 2012 based on increased capacity and declining prices for polylactic acid and starch blend polymers in packaging and textile fiber uses. Hyaluronic acid demand will expand rapidly in medical and cosmetic/toiletry applications with strong gains anticipated in dermal filler injections and orthopedic treatments. Demand for exudate and vegetable gums will be driven by oilfield and food/beverage applications for guar gum and gum arabic. Robust growth is anticipated for protein-based polymers such as collagen, with further advances threatened by mature wheat gluten uses. The marine polymer segment will be driven by opportunities for carrageenan and alginates.
Cellulose ether demand will be stimulated by widespread food, construction and oilfield applications. Microcrystalline cellulose will expand at the fastest pace due to opportunities as pharmaceutical excipients, as well as food and beverage applications. Carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC) demand will increase at a slightly slower pace with best growth anticipated in drilling, workover and completion fluids for the oilfield industry, where it functions as a thickening and suspension agent. Methyl cellulose has an entrenched position in construction uses such as plaster, mortar, grouts, stucco and wallpaper pastes.
Food and beverages will remain the leading market for natural polymers, where natural polymers are used as thickeners, stabilizers and emulsifiers. Medical markets will rise at a significantly faster pace due to opportunities for cellulose ethers, collagen and hyaluronic acid in pharmaceuticals, and dermal and topical fillers. Good oilfield advances will be fueled by increased drilling of new oil and natural gas wells, and the continued maturation of domestic crude oil and gas fields, all of which will increase the need for natural polymers used in well stimulation, exploration and other areas.