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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. Its manufacture employs the same method today.

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 LDPE plants across the world use different technologies for production. LyondellBasell (Lupotech) technology is the most used technology by LDPE plantsglobally. A close second is the Univation (Unipol) technology which is also used a lot forthe production of LDPE worldwide. The name plate plant size capacity has risen from 20 MMT in 2006 to 22 MMT in 2011 and is expected to touch 25 MMT by 2016 for polypropylene plants. 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 22 MMT and the demand is 18.7 MMT. The capacity & demand for last five years have grown 1.9% & 1.1% respectively. Domestically there has been an increase in demand of 9.9% from 2006-07 to 2011-12 from 253 KT to 405 KT. The capacity has remained the same i.e. 205 KT. Excess demand over & above capacity is being met by Imports. The major imports are from Basell, Qapco, Sasool, and Tasnee. Itis expected that demand will grow at 8.1% during 12th plan period i.e. from 438 KT to 597 KT. Reliance Industries Ltd has been contemplating to put up the plant of LD (400 KT) at Jamnagar.

In general, LDPE prices followed a firming trend across the globe as of the beginning of 2012 until a short while ago, as per ChemOrbis. All the same, this upward trend mostly stemmed from the bullish support from the cost side, rather than good demand dynamics. Global demand has been hit by widespread economic woes. Before the debt crisis in Europe had a chance to cool down, poor results for economic indicators have started to show up in Asia, particularly from the regions’ emerging-market growth engines, namely China and India.

Global LDPE capacity was 22 MMT in 2011 against demand of 18 MMT. The capacity is expected to increase to 25 MMT in 2016 with demand reaching 22 MMT. In India the total LDPE capacity is expected to reach 605 KTA by 2016-17 and it is Reliance Industries Ltd which has planned capacity expansion to 605 KTA by 2016-17. LDPE price touched its lowest level in last five years in Nov’08 – 860$/MT-SE Asia prices while in May’12 the prices touched 1335$ MT corresponding to Crude 107.31 $/Barrel and Naphtha 886 $/MT. Qatar Petrochemical Company is planning to start up its new 300,000 tpa LDPE plant at Mesaieed by the end of June while Saudi Kayan is set to commission its new LDPE plant with the same capacity in June as well.

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 84% of the 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).
  • Parts of computer hardware, such as hard disk drives, screen cards, and optical disc drives
  • Playground slides

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.
  • Metalloc
    ene 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 Projected        
    2011-12 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17
    RIL 205 205 205 205 605 605
    Total 205 205 205 205 605 605

    Producer LDPE: India Demand Supply
    Actual Projected
    2011-12 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17
    Capacity 205 205 205 205 605 605
    Prod/Cons 203 205 205 205 605 605
    Imports 200 233 269 306 50 40
    Exports 1 0 0 0 103 48
    Consumption 405 438 474 511 552 597
    Cons Growth (%)   8.1% 8.2% 7.8% 8.0% 8.2%

    Total LDPE Consumption in 2011-12 365 Kt

    LDPE (Kt) 10-11 11-12 % Share % Growth
    Gen. Purpose 87 103 28% 18%
    Extrusion Coating 62 75 21% 21%
    Liquid Packaging 60 67 18% 12%
    Heavy Duty 42 46 13% 10%
    Others 30 41 11% 36.7%
    Adh. Lam. 20 19 5% -5.0%
    Injection Moulding 16 14 4% -13%
    LDPE 317 365   15%
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