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LDPE - Low-density polyethylene

Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) is a thermoplastic made from petroleum. It was the first grade of polyethylene, produced in 1933 by Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) using a high pressure process via free radical polymerization.

Conventional or high pressure low density polyethylene is generally the softest and least crystalline of the polyethylenes. LDPE is widely used in applications requiring clarity, inertness, processing ease, sealability, moisture barriers, and good electrical properties.

The LDPE plants across the world use different technologies for production. LyondellBasell (Lupotech) technology is the most used technology by LDPE plants globally. A close second is the Univation (Unipol) technology which is also used a lot for the production of LDPE worldwide.

LDPE is defined by a density range of 0.910–0.940 g/cm3. It is not reactive at room temperatures, except by strong oxidizing agents, and some solvents cause swelling. It can withstand temperatures of 80 °C continuously and 95 °C for a short time. Made in translucent or opaque variations, it is quite flexible, and tough but breakable. Ethylene is the feedstock for the production of polyethylene commodities like HDPE, LPDE, and LLDPE.

The Dow Chemical Company, Exxon Mobil, LyondellBasell, China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation and The National Petrochemical Company, Reliance Industries Ltd are some of leading producers of LDPE. The LDPE markets in key regions: Asia, Europe, North America, Middle East and South and Central America. LDPE markets in key countries: China, Japan, South Korea, India, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the UK, the US, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Brazil and Mexico. The global capacity of LDPE is estimated at 24.5 MMT in 2016 while the consumption is pegged at 20.8 MMT for 2016. The LDPE demand in India is projected at 703 KTA for 2016–17 against the current capacity of 205 KTA which would be enhanced by over 400 KT with the arrival of J3 of Reliance Industries. Presently domestic production is supplemented by imports.

The major application wise share is in the order of general purpose film, extrusion coating, milk packaging, heavy duty, injection moulding, wire & cables & others. Flexible Packaging constitutes major part of LD consumption. The growing sectors are general purpose film, heavy duty, milk packaging, injection moulding sectors, adhesive laminates. LDPE is widely used for manufacturing various containers, dispensing bottles, wash bottles, tubing, plastic bags for computer components, and various molded laboratory equipment. Its most common use is in plastic bags. Other Products made from it include:

  • Trays and general purpose containers
  • Corrosion-resistant work surfaces
  • Parts that need to be weldable and machinable
  • Parts that require flexibility, for which it serves very well
  • Very soft and pliable parts
  • Plastic wraps
  • Juice and milk cartons is made of liquid packaging board, a laminate of paperboard and LDPE (as the water-proof inner and outer layer), and often with of a layer of aluminum foil (thus becoming aseptic packaging).

Polymerization of ethylene can be done according to three mechanisms:
  • Free radical polymerization yielding LDPE. Polymeric chains are branched allowing the material to have specific performances (rheology and mechanical properties).
  • Ziegler Natta catalysis of HDPE or LLDPE by addition of co-monomers. Macromolecules are linear with some short branched segments.
  • Metallocene catalysis yields linear and tailored structures leading to formation of special resins.
There are two main processes by which LDPE is produced via free radical chemistry:

  • The tubular process
  • The autoclave process


    Capacity (kt) Actual Actual Actual Actual Actual Projected
    2011-12 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17
    RIL 205 205 205 205 205 205
    Total 205 205 205 205 205 205
    Source: Industry

    LDPE: India Demand Supply
    Actual Actual Actual Actual Actual Projected
    2011-12 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17
    Capacity 205 205 205 205 205 205
    Production 194 186 190 184 198 202
    Dom Sales 194 186 189 187 201 201
    Imports 290 257 255 328 468 501
    Exports 0 0 0 0 0 0
    Consumption 484 443 444 515 669 703
    Cons Growth (%) 13% -8% 0% 16% 30% 5%
    Source: Industry

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