Linear Alpha Olefins (LAOs) are straight-chain hydrocarbons. They are characterized by a double bond in the terminal or alpha position. The production of linear alpha-olefins (LAOs) yields an entire range of even-numbered carbon chain-length LAOs varying from four carbons (butene-1) to more than thirty carbons (expressed as C30+).
The industrially important alpha-olefins are
The biggest outlet for LAOs are their use as comonomers for polyethylene production while other important end-uses include lubricants, plasticizers, oil-field & fine chemicals, detergent intermediates, lubricants, polybutene-1, pulp & paper and additives amongst others. The production of LAOs can be divided into either Full range Alpha olefins or on-purpose LAOs. The major techonologies used is the ethylene oligomerisation.
The current global demand for total LAOs has more than doubled, from 2.0 million tons in 1995. Historically, the overall demand witnessed an aggregate growth rate of 4.0% in the last 15 years, mainly supported by the strong demand from polyethylene and detergent alcohols as well as lubricants. The demand for LAOs was affected in 2008 with the market contracting by almost 5%, however, the market recovered in 2009 and by 2010; the demand bounced back to pre-economic downturn levels.
Historically demand for LAOs has mainly come in from the polyethylene segment, closely followed by detergents and lubricants. The demand from polyethylene has increased from 40% in 1995 to nearly 60% in 2015, as the global demand for polyethylene witnessed strong growth rates over the past decade. This has resulted in a lowered share from detergent alcohols and lubricants which declined from 13-14% of the total LAOs demand in 1995 to 10% in 2015. The other applications have more or less maintained their share in the global LAOs demand in the past 15 years.
In the long term forecast till 2025, the demand from polyethylene is likely to reach 63% of the total LAOs demand and further increase to 65% of the total demand by 2030. On the other hand, the demand from detergent alcohols and lubricant applications will decline in the coming years to reach 8% each by 2025. The other applications are likely to maintain a similar share as witnessed in history, till the end of the forecast period. Prismane Consulting s LAOs integrated market model has tracked all LAOs with their production, demand-supply, and process-technologies for all full range and on-purpose capacities.
In 2020, the total Linear Alpha Olefins (LAOs) capacity in the United States was estimated to be around 2950 kilo tons, accounting for over 90% of the capacity in North America. The country is expected to witness two major capacity additions during the forecast period. In September 2019, ExxonMobil started construction of its 350 kilotons/year full-range Linear Alpha Olefins (LAO) plant in Baytown, Texas. The plant is currently on-track and is expected to start commercial operations this year. The average full range Linear Alpha Olefins capacity utilization rates in the last 6 years in North America has averaged around 80%. According to Prismane Consulting estimates, the on-purpose LAO plants have been operating at higher rates in comparison to full-range LAO capacities. The region has been a net exporter and will continue to retain its status as new LAO capacities come-up during the forecast period.