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January 11, 2019

China set to become self-sufficient in isopropanol: The past and the future of the Asian isopropanol industry

Isopropanol (also referred to as IPA, isopropyl alcohol, 2-propanol, sec-propyl alcohol or rubbing alcohol) is widely used as a solvent in personal care, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, foods, adhesives, inks and coatings, as a cleaning agent for electronic devices and as a petrochemical intermediate feedstock. 

Isopropanol can be produced from propylene or acetone feedstocks via three commercial routes. Direct propylene hydration and the indirect sulphuric acid process utilise propylene and together account for more than 76 percent of total capacity in 2018. Acetone hydrogenation is the other process route and has become increasingly popular in Asia. In 2000, the route accounted for two percent of global capacity and by 2018 this had jumped to nearly 25 percent. The competitive position between the two production routes varies year-on-year, depending largely on the price and availability of the two feedstocks.  For end-uses where very high purity isopropanol is required, propylene-based isopropanol is more desirable due to the concern over residual impurities in acetone-based isopropanol (i.e. benzene).

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