The global bromine
industry continues to operate under pressure, and the world’s main bromine producers
have recently indicated that they expect demand and prices to be broadly flat
at current levels for the next year.
Despite various predictions of market
growth, led by expanding demand for bromine in clear brine solutions for the
oilfield industry, bromine’s traditional end uses are undergoing changes that
could restrict rises in consumption rates, particularly in flame retardants.
Sourced from naturally occurring brines,
commercial extraction of bromine involves heating brine to around 90°C and
treating it with chlorine to oxidise bromine ions into elemental bromine. This
is then separated from the brine using either steam (for concentrated brines)
or air (for seawater).
The world’s four largest bromine companies – Israel
Chemicals Ltd (ICL), and Jordan
Bromine Co. (JBC), Albemarle
Corp. and Chemtura
Corp. – account for around 70% of global bromine production capacity and are
divided between two of the world’s most important bromine-producing regions.
ICL and JBC are based in their
namesake countries of Israel and Jordan in the Middle East, sharing a border
that runs through the bromine-rich Dead Sea. According to ICL, this inland,
biblically distinguished body of water is the world’s most sustainable source
of the mineral.
Albemarle and Chemtura are based in
the US and extract bromine from concentrated, sub-surface brines in Arkansas.
Stefan Schlag, Switzerland-based senior
consultant at IHS Chemical, says that both of these natural bromine sources
have the advantages of richness and sustainability that have helped ensure
market dominance for the ‘big four’.
“They all produce bromine at
competitive production cost with access to relatively highly concentrated brines,”
Schlag told IM.
These same four companies also
produce the bulk of global supplies of downstream brominated organic compounds,
inorganic bromines and hydrobromic acid, which are used in a range of
applications including flame retardants, catalysts and clear brines for oil
The reason why bromine producers
also manufacture their own bromine derivatives is due to logistical cost
constraints, Schlag explains.
In its elemental form, bromine is a
highly toxic, corrosive substance that has to be transported in lead-lined ISO
tanks, which conform to standards set by a number of international regulatory
“Most of the world’s bromine is
actually consumed at the place where it is produced,” says Schlag. “The cost of
transportation [for bromine] is high because of the need for special
transportation containers, and accordingly it makes sense to use elemental
bromine at the site where it is produced. The situation is similar to that of
International trade figures show
that there is some trade in elemental bromine, originating mostly from the Dead
Sea, and from the US. However the majority of the world’s bromine is traded in
the form of derivative products.
Europe, which is a main importer of
bromine, accounts for roughly 30,000 tpa of imports, according to figures
published by Eurostat. This compares with the total size of the world bromine
chemicals market of around 800,000 tonnes, Schlag says.
“Consumption of bromine is overall
expected to grow over the [coming] years, and most of the additional volume is
expected to come from the main use in flame retardants,” Schlag said.
Other significant fields of
application where growth is expected are in clear brine fluids, which are
mostly used in deep offshore oil drilling, and water treatment.
According to Schlag, bromine’s use
in water treatment is predicted to show largest annual average growth rates of
any bromine market, averaging around 6% over the next few years.
A fourth large and growing area of
use is hydrogen bromide, which is used as a catalyst in purified terephthalic acid
(PTA) production. PTA is a raw material used in making high performance,
multi-purpose plastics such as polybutyl terephthalate (PBT), polyethylene terephthalate
(PET), and the bioplastic, polytrimethylene terephthalate (PTT).
When it comes to bromine’s use in flame
retardants, there are changes ahead for the chemical, Schlag explains.
“The brominated products that will
be replaced are the brominated monomers. These will be partially replaced by
brominated polymers. The amount of bromine will remain approximately the same
per volume of plastic to be retarded,” he said.
In August this year, Albemarle and
ICL announced that they were teaming up develop and market polymeric alternatives
to hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD)
flame retardants, which are being widely phased out owing to toxicological
Albemarle has been working on an
alternative polymeric flame retardant called GreenCrest, while ICL has launched
its FR-122P product. Both compounds still contain bromine, but do not carry the
apparent environmental health risks associated with HBCD.
While changes to legislation in the
US and Europe is forcing a transition to new polymeric fire safety chemicals in
these regions, both Albemarle and Chemtura have admitted they are experiencing resistance
in persuading Asian markets to take up new, more expensive flame retardant
ICL has declined to comment on its
own experiences in this field, but the company recently said it would increase
the price of its elemental bromine and hydrobromic acid products by 20% for
its Far East customers, citing margin pressures in its bromine business.
Of more concern for producers of
bromine is that some other brominated flame retardants will be replaced by
non-brominated flame retardants. Manufacturers of PVC in cable mantling, for
example, are now moving to use polymers that do not use brominated flame
Bromine is also being withdrawn
from other industries, including the US beverages market, where brominated
vegetable oil (BVO) has been used by some drinks companies as a flavour and
colour emulsifier in citrus drinks to prevent citrus oils from phase separating.
In the last two years, both PepsiCo.
Cola have announced that they will replace BVO in their citrus drinks with
sucrose alternatives following popular pressure to drop the chemical, although
both insisted BVO does not pose health risks to consumers.
Bromine compounds have a number of
applications in photography, including making the light-sensitive component of photographic
emulsions as well as in the development of film. However, since the invention
and widespread adoption of digital photography, this market has shrunk to
represent an insignificant volume of bromine consumption.
Schlag, opportunities exist to take up some of the slack in the bromine market
left by the phase-out of bromine in its traditional uses.
fluids and water treatment are both growth areas with very good potential,”
Schlag told IM.
drilling is becoming increasingly important, as is clean water, particularly in
highly populated areas in fast growing Asian economies with sparse water
resources,” he added.
Bromine could also benefit
from the growing electrical vehicle (EV) market. Bromine compounds used to be
used as a constituent of “anti-knock fluid” in leaded vehicle fuels, but this
market has all but disappeared with the switch to unleaded petrol for new cars.
Now, bromine compounds are
being tested in batteries for EVs and power storage solutions, although these
are just one of a number of competing chemistries in this field.