The 5 commercially most lucrative chemicals in the furans family are:
is the precursor for furfuryl alcohol (“FA”), tetrahydrofurfuryl alcohol (THFA), furoic acid, furfurylamine, methylfuran and furan. From furan, tetrahydrofuran (THF) is derived, which is the precursor for polytetramethylene ether glycol (PTMEG).
Furfuryl Alcohol (“FA”)
FA is manufactured by the hydrogenation (catalytic reduction) of furfural. It can be used as a solvent, but it’s more often used as an ingredient in the manufacture of various chemical products such as …
THFA is a green (EPA approved) solvent and a chemical intermediate for the pharmaceutical and chemical specialities sector (e.g. agricultural, cleaning, coating and paint stripper formulations) …
THF (.. also in the context of BDO)
PTMEG is the largest user for THF: About 80% of THF is converted to PTMEG (see below). The balance is used as a solvent in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) cements, pharmaceuticals and coatings. Global consumption is in the order of ±500,000 tpa. Regrettably for the furfural industry, the bulk of the global THF production is derived from 1,4-Butane Diol (1,4 BDO), i.e ±45% of global BDO production (approximately 1 million tpa) is converted to THF. BDO is derived from downstream products of crude oil.
PTMEG to Spandex
PTMEG is used in the production of thermoplastics like polyurethane elastomers, Spandex (also know as Elastane or Lycra®); a synthetic fiber stronger and more durable than rubber, known for its exceptional elasticity, (high-performance) copolyester-ether elastomers and polyamides. Global output of Spandex is in the order of 500,000 tpa and for years the annual growth rate has been between 2% and 5.5%.
There used to be a plant in the USA and in 2007 two THF (to PTMEG) plants were built in China, which can use furfural as their feedstock. There are no technological reasons why furfural-based PTMEG should not gain a larger market share in a world that is looking at reducing its carbon footprint!