Polyurea is commonly used as a waterproofing sealant and corrosion-resistant coating on metals and concrete surfaces. Its applications include building construction, rail and road transport, bridges, boats and ships, automobiles, oil and gas structures, and machinery. The reasons for its widespread use and some future demand scenarios are discussed in this article.
Overview of the Polyurea Market
Polyurea is manufactured from aliphatic and aromatic types of isocyanates as a raw material. Both pure polyurea and hybrid product formulations are commercially available. (Related reading: The Advantages of Pure Polyurea Coatings for Protecting Water Treatment Plant Infrastructure.) These products can be applied manually, by hand mixing, pouring and as a spray coating.
The global polyurea market is segmented on the basis of:
- Raw materials used to produce the product
- Application technology
- Geographic regions
- End user application segments
- Type of product (pure polyurea versus hybrid)
- Major polyurea producers and competitive strategy
We will examine each of these in more detail in the following sections.
Raw Materials Used to Produce the Product
The raw materials are either aliphatic or aromatic isocyanates. Polyurea products based on aromatic isocyanates generally dominate the market because of their inherent advantages and physical features such as superior corrosion resistance and abrasion resistance, which are needed for coating boat hulls and other marine applications, building floors, wall construction and machinery. (A further discussion of polyurea in marine environments can be found in the article Flexible Coatings for Protection of Marine Structures.)
The primary drawback of using aromatic isocyanate as a raw material is that the color and shine is adversely affected by the sun's ultraviolet rays (UV). Aliphatic polyurea is used for applications where color stability is important.
Developments in spray technology have popularized polyurea, thus other coatings such as epoxy coatings are being easily replaced by polyurea spray coatings. The main advantages of a spray system are the speed of application, quickness of curing and accuracy of the resulting coating thickness.
Polyurea markets are broadly categorized into the following regions:
- North American
- Asia Pacific
- Middle East and African
- South American
North America leads the others with an estimated 35% of the global consumption, closely followed by Asia Pacific (30%), Europe (20%) and Middle East and Africa (10%). The Asia Pacific region is expected to grow the fastest, with notable growth in emerging economies such as Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Taiwan, China and India. Some of the Asia Pacific countries have the advantages of lower labor costs, access to raw materials, tax advantages and less stringent environmental regulations.
End User (Applications) Segments
End users are divided into the following classifications:
- Building, housing and general construction
- Marine (boats, ships, ocean liners)
- Oil and gas
The growing demand for building construction and housing, driven by the rise in urbanization, is expected to provide momentum for market demand growth for polyurea products. Many South American countries are investing in construction projects. The emerging economies of the Asia Pacific region are also expected to continue their investments in infrastructure, thus causing a growth in demand for polyurea coatings.
Transportation is another sector driving the growing demand for polyurea based on aromatic isocyanate.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there is speculation that demand will increase for individual vehicles such as cars and two-wheelers in many countries as people prefer to travel in their own vehicles and avoid public transportation.
Type of Product (Pure Polyurea versus Hybrid Polyurea- Polyurethane)
Pure polyurea has better moisture resistance and temperature resistance, whereas hybrid polyurea has superior adhesion on concrete and metal surfaces. Hybrid polyurea also has superior abrasion resistance and is preferred for specific applications such as building construction machinery. Hybrid polyurea has a cost advantage over pure polyurea, and is expected to gain a major share of the global market demand.
Major Polyurea Producers and Competitive Strategy
Some of the leading polyurea manufacturers and solution providers include:
- BASF, Teknos and Voelkel Industrial products, GmBH (VIP)
- Kukdo Chemical Co Ltd, Covastro, Huntman International
- PPG Industries, Sherwin-Williams
- Rhino Linings Corporation, Wasser Corporation
- Armothane Inc, Versa Flex Inc, Nucoat Coating Systems
Due to technical barriers, customers cannot easily switch from one supplier to another because the after-sale technical services component is crucial for the processes managed by the customer. Polyurea brands in the global market are obviously built on the basis of product innovations and superior control of critical quality control parameters. Developing new formulations of polyurea — tailored to the customer’s unique challenges — is the main strategy of the major players in the market.
Why Demand for Polyurea Is Expected to Grow
Demand is expected to increase for a variety of reasons as explored below.
Growth in Building and Infrastructure Construction
Asia Pacific polyurea demand is now growing at a faster rate than other regions to the extent that its market volume is comparable to the North American volume.
In North America, the polyurea infrastructure market is commonly used to waterproof such as bridges and parking decks, and for corrosion preventative coatings for pipelines and roadways.
Polyurea is used as a water proofing film to protect bridge structures that require maintenance. Demand continues to grow as more bridges are added to the list of deficient structures. The United States alone has more than 612,000 bridges, and it has been estimated that one third of them need repair or replacement. The remaining bridges might need a thorough inspection, and repair or replacement.
According to one report, in 2015 the United States topped the global polyurea consumption at 27.91% while China consumed another 15.92%. Europe was the other major consumer. Building construction, bridge and infrastructure waterproofing, and the transportation sector continue to drive the demand for polyurea coatings in these three regions.
The polyurea market is estimated to expand from the present expenditure of USD 885 million to USD 1.485 billion. The growth rate is expected to be 10% CAGR. The expansion of infrastructure, maintenance, general construction, landscaping, railroad transportation and other industries is expected to drive the growth.
Regulatory requirements and growing environmental awareness are compelling buyers to prefer eco-friendly polyurea coating products with no volatile organic compounds (VOCs). High quality product offerings by global polyurea manufacturers have caused a shift in buyer preference in favor of durable, cost-effective and high-quality products.
The application portfolio for polyurea is growing continuously because of technological developments, including innovations in materials science and application techniques and equipment.
Despite its high raw material cost, polyurea systems become highly cost-effective due to their fast curing (even at low temperatures irrespective of high humidity conditions) and superior physical-chemical properties that can be tailored to unique application requirements. For certain end user requirements, polyurea is often the only feasible choice. Because the polyurea coatings are totally free from VOCs, they are compliant with regulatory requirements.
Populations have been growing in tier-2 and tier-3 cities all over the world, resulting in a rapid growth in urban infrastructure requirements such as airports, railroads, roadways, flyovers, bridges, malls and parking facilities, along with added demand for petroleum products and shipping. These factors continue to drive the growth in demand for polyurea coatings.
Optimistic double-digit growth rates are expected as new polyurea systems continue to replace competing coatings such as epoxy systems that do not cure as quickly or tolerate variable temperature and humidity conditions. New applications are being discovered for these coatings on a continuous basis.
Benefits and Advantages of Polyurea
The benefits and advantages provided by polyurea coatings over comparable coatings such as epoxy include a combination of features such as superior surface strength, hydrophobic (water repellent) qualities, high tensile load capacity and inertness with most chemicals. Besides the flexibility and feasibility of designing and tailoring the different product features, polyurea systems also enable the use of fibers for reinforcement.
Factors Inhibiting Polyurea Demand
Unfortunately, applying polyurea requires costly spray equipment and skilled labor. The initial cost is high, but considering polyurea's higher effectiveness and durability, these coatings can be considered cost effective.
The Covid-19 pandemic needs to be considered. According to one report, the pandemic temporarily disrupted the supply chain and polyurea manufacturing, and overall market demand is lower. While building construction has been adversely impacted across the globe, the market is expected to recover soon.
Factors Increasing Polyurea Demand
The top industry players are planning to increase polyurea production in the Asia Pacific region, and North American and European producers are even relocating some of their manufacturing plants to the Asia Pacific region due to the advantages of lower manufacturing cost, lower raw material costs and proximity to booming markets. The region is expected to have steady demand growth due to a rise in disposable income of the middle and upper-middle class segments, resulting in a higher rate of economic development and growth. Because consumers appreciate the importance of a quality, durable coating, polyurea demand is steadily increasing. In addition, there is higher public spending on infrastructure projects such as roads and bridges.
For example, Voelkel Industry Producte (VIP) partnered with BASF for polyurea technology development, and developed new polyurea formulations. Joint ventures have been set up by VIP in Hong Kong and India. VIP licensed production is starting in South Africa, and a VIP subsidiary in Dubai has been established to expand polyurea markets outside Germany.
Demand for polyurea is expected to steadily increase as new polyurea coating systems continue to replace alternative coatings. New applications are being continuously developed for these polyurea coatings, replacing some of the competing coatings. Infrastructure spending in emerging economies such as the Asia Pacific region is creating additional demand for polyurea. Increasing populations in tier-2 and tier-3 cities is leading to a construction boom of roads, bridges, houses, malls, tunnels, rail transport systems, airports and shipping ports, all of which drive a steadily growing demand for polyurea coatings and linings.