Silicone or ‘polysiloxanes’ is a synthetic polymer containing units of silicon alternated with oxygen, carbon, hydrogen and other elements as per its usage demands. The title of ‘one of the world’s most commonly used material’ can be easily bestowed upon silicone.
From electronics and semiconductors to aircraft & automobiles, from healthcare & prosthetics to food processing and home appliances as well as kitchen utilities, silicone is used as a key ingredient almost everywhere. Hence, the market for silicone is extensive and is experiencing exponential growth.
A look at the global market
The global silicone demand is quite high despite the slowing down of the global economy. The global silicone market price was estimated to be quite high in the year of 2017. In the fiscal period of 2018-2023, the growth was quite impressive and this exponential rise can be estimated to be 22 billion USD by 2023.
This increase in global demand within the projected period of 2018-2023 is majorly attributed to the Asia Pacific region. The rapid pace of urbanization and the accelerated increase in economic and infrastructural developments have contributed to the demand. China has always been the biggest consumer market for silicone followed by India. South East Asian countries like Thailand and Indonesia are also expected to conquer the silicone market. On a product basis, electronics and electrical goods will take the biggest share in the Asia Pacific region.
The demand for silicone in the more matured economies like North America and the EU will be rather slow. Although the U.S market has been estimated to reflect the growth, the growth in the Western European market will be slow yet steady. Other parts of the world are expected to see growth as per the global average.
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Usage and demand
The demand for silicone in the market is far-reaching. Some of the common uses of silicone include:
- Automobiles: The water insolubility and thermo-stability allow silicone to be used as a lubricant for brake components. In the manufacturing of spare plugs, gaskets for engines, transmissions, and also in the manufacturing of airbags, silicone is utilized.
- Coating: Silicone films are hydrophobic in nature and thus they are used in the manufacturing of waterproof
- Cookware: As silicone is highly stable at a higher temperature and is non-sticky in nature, it finds its use in the cookware industry especially in the bakeware
- Defoaming: As silicone has anti-foaming properties, it is used in the food processing and food manufacturing industry as a preventive substance from food spoilage.
- Dry cleaning: Liquid silicone is an effective dry cleaning agent and proves to be a more environmentally-friendly version than chlorine dry-cleaning.
- Electronics: Silicone is used as a semiconductor and coat encasing the electronic microchips to provide higher durability and increased performance.
- Healthcare and medicine: Silicone is used in the manufacturing of different biomedical equipment that require high-grade biocompatibility. As the material is extremely hydrophobic, it provides resistance to microbial growth and hence is used largely in implants, prosthetics and contact lenses.
The introduction of silicone came as a direct competition to plastics and plastic wares. Silicone is a subtype of the 14th element ‘silicon’ in the periodic table. As a direct competitor of plastic, silicone ranks higher because of its environment-friendlier nature. Plastics are essentially petro products with bisphenol-A which causes serious endocrine disorders whereas silicone is relatively more environmentally safe. Silicone is essentially made from silica which is found largely in sand and is much more long-lasting than plastic.
The extreme thermostability of silicone allows it to withstand the variation of temperature without melting, cracking or degrading into any environmental hazardous material.
Research has shown silicone to be resistant to oxidative deterioration and thus it is resistant to ozone, UV or other harmful rays. Additionally, it is less toxic to aquatic organisms. Silicone is noted to be fairly biodegradable, as when incinerated, it decomposes into its ingredients of amorphous silica, water vapor, and carbon dioxide. A recent study by the Global Silicone Council took a look at the lifetime emission of silicone, siloxane and silane products. It was estimated that for every ton of CO2 emitted with the use of silicone in its lifetime, the environment-friendly factor can be quite high.
However, many silicone byproducts have quartz as their base material mixed with hydrocarbons which are petroleum byproducts. The methods implemented in extracting and processing these hydrocarbons face environmental criticism to a considerable extent.
Going by the market figures on the growth prospects of silicone, it can be concluded that the material has a range of applications in diverse sectors. Silicone is much safer, more durable and more environment-friendly compared to its competitor plastic, and that’s what broadens its possibilities in industrial applications.