TREND REPORT Commodity Plastics
Styrene Copolymers
Rising Demand for Specialty Polymers
Styrene polymers continue to maintain their position in the global market due to continuous advances and innovations. The sharp surge in demand for specialty copolymers has led to an increase in production capacity by the
producers in Asia and the Middle East. The rise of demand will go on.
An ASA+PA6 blend in the
frame of the center console of the Renault Zoe
(figure: Renault)
evelopments in processes, products
and applications for styrene polymers are being systematically commercialized to exploit the good cost-benefit
potential of this class of materials. All suppliers are becoming increasingly reliant
for their success on understanding the
entire value-creation chain, from polymer
raw material through to end-use. Targeted processes and collaboration with leading users in each market segment and region are giving rise to industry-driven developments that are no longer aimed
solely at improved or new products and
processes, but increasingly target system
solutions and collaborative innovations.
To gain a deep understanding of industries, market levels and regional specifics,
not only new approaches must be devised but application developers must be
hired who combine in-depth product
and market knowledge with a broad
overview of technology. Among the
prominent trends are customized nanostructured surfaces, weight reduction,
improvements in application performance and safety, as well as the tailoring
of commodity plastics to customers’
needs and their applications.
Examples of such developments are fiber optic systems made from highly transparent styrene polymers, nanostructured
surfaces that possess superhydrophobic
properties, and highly UV-resistant styrene
polymers that are being systematically
substituted for high-priced polymers.
Sustainability is gaining traction in all
application areas, and is by no means restricted to the use of biodegradable polymers. Goals here include reducing the
size of the carbon footprint and/or seeking out the best ecological and economic
alternatives to existing solutions. Systematic innovation management is crucial if
efficiency of existing resources is to be increased. Integrated innovation processes
and open innovation are topics which are
gaining importance.
Styrene polymers and especially styrene copolymers enjoyed significant volume growth in the last three years, despite cost pressures (Table 1). This growth
mainly came from interpolymer substitution that had already occurred in less
technically demanding applications.
Packaging, simple injection molded articles for packaging sleeves, toys, small
items and the like, together constitute a
stable base volume upon which further
growth can occur (Fig. 1).
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Commodity Plastics TREND REPORT
Transparent base polymers
Bu or PBu
High impact
Impact modified polymers
styrene (ABS)
styrene acrylate
Impact modified polymers
acrylonitrile butadiene
styrene (MABS)
PA or PC
Blends (examples)
PBu Polybutadiene
PA Polyamide
MMA Methyl methacrylate
Butyl acrylate
PA or PC
PPE Polyphenylene ether
© Kunststoffe
Fig. 1. Structural diversity, as exemplified by styrene copolymers (figure: [4])
Styrene Acrylonitrile (SAN)
Styrene acrylonitrile (SAN) (Fig. 1) has successfully defended its application areas –
in the household sector, in cosmetic
packaging and in durable industrial batteries – in recent years. It has done so by
virtue of a special property profile comprised of chemical resistance, very good
transparency and high rigidity, all of
which are essential in nearly every SAN
application. Supply and demand in the
European market have remained stable in
recent years. However, ABS producers in
Asia have upped their efforts to serve the
European SAN market with imports.
Established uses aside, innovations are
spawning more and more new applications. In recent years, Styrolution Group
GmbH, Frankfurt, Germany, has succeeded
for example in tapping the field of automotive exterior applications by developing customized formulations based on
ABS standard and polymers
Capacity (kt/a)
Market development (kt/a)
Table 1. Market performance of ABS commodities and specialties as an indicator (figure: IHS
database, July 2014)
heat-resistant Luran HH-120 (alpha-methylstyrene-acrylonitrile). This product is used
in door pillar trims and other decorative
­elements because it offers a combination
of many factors. Thus, the SPF50 grade
possesses very good UV stability, high
gloss and exceptional depth of color. This
specialty SAN also has other intrinsic advantages, such as increased heat resistance (Vicat softening temperature of
120 °C), high chemical resistance and ease
of processing. These offer huge benefits
for vehicle manufacturers and plastics processors alike and can be expected to translate into above-average growth in this segment. Similar out-performance is expected in other market segments once the
product portfolio has been adjusted to
meet more stringent user requirements.
Styrene Methyl Methacrylate (SMMA)
Styrene methyl methacrylate (SMMA)
combines the excellent ease of processing of styrene polymers with the high
brilliance and crystal clarity of polymethyl
methacrylate (PMMA). It finds widespread
application in homeware, such as water
filters, water tanks and tumblers, and is
also found in optical applications and displays. Crystal clarity, excellent flow in injection molding, low water absorption
and high rigidity single out this polymer
for thick-walled applications that must
meet high aesthetic standards. With NAS
(SMMA), Styrolution offers a diversified
product portfolio that will be further expanded to include colored variants alongside the transparent grades when the
new production site in Ludwigshafen
comes on stream. These developments
will exploit the market potential of these
specialty copolymers while opening up
further innovations that will support disproportionately high growth.
Styrene-Butadiene Copolymer (SBC)
Styrolux, an impact-resistant and crystal
clear SBC, and Styroflex, an equally transparent thermoplastic elastomer, are produced
by Styrolution in world-scale production facilities in Europe and America. SBC polymers are still almost exclusively blended
with commodity polystyrene primarily intended for transparent, rigid packaging for
foodstuffs and consumer goods. There is
hardly any growth potential left for styrene
polymers in this market segment in general
due to excessive interpolymer competition
and price pressure from polypropylene and
polyesters, such as polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Within the broad market for transparent packaging, there are still niche areas,
such as shrink-wrap film, which still enjoy
above-average growth.
One beneficiary thereof is the advanced 2-component concept by which
shrink-wrap films and sleeves are made
from Styrolux T and Styrolux S. This concept allows processors to customize the
film’s mechanical and shrinkage properties. New quality standards in terms of defects have been set for premium products in this demanding market segment
and have led to excellent printability.
Food packaging continues to be an
application for SBC polymers in multi-layer composite films with other polymers,
some of which provide functional tasks,
such as gas barrier properties. The role of
the SBC polymers is to contribute mechanical strength, elasticity and optical
clarity. Compounding SBC polymers with
other styrene polymers, as well as with
polyolefins, can produce equally significant improvements in film properties,
such as greater puncture resistance, improved stress cracking resistance and
elastic recovery. Unlike film unmodified
with SBC, there is scope here for either reducing the thickness without com- »
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TREND REPORT Commodity Plastics
• Initiator
: butyllithium
• Dissolver
: cyclohexan
• Randomizer : static copolymerisation
Block sequence
16 %
68 %
16 %
Special soft phase:
Tg – 39 °C
Middle polarity
• Printable
• Adhesion on styrene polymers
High thermal stability
polystyrene styrene butadiene copolymer polystyrene
© Kunststoffe
Fig. 2. Property customization through polymerization and morphology control, as exemplified
by the plastic material Styroflex (figures 2-7: Styrolution)
promising on performance or for remaining the thickness and boosting performance. This property profile, combined
with high thermal stability, renders SBC
polymers increasingly attractive for upgrading recycled materials.
The extremely low residual styrene
monomer content arising from the polymerization method predestines SBC
polymers – instead of free-radically produced SBR rubber – for high-quality,
low-emission floor coverings. The transparency and toughness-rigidity ratio of
methacrylate butadiene styrene (MBS)
polymer grades sold under the Zylar
trade name make them ideal for the further development of high clarity SBC specialties for impact modification of hard,
stiff SMMA copolymers.
The medical industry, too, is beginning to appreciate the core properties of
SBC polymers. These include transparency and toughness, elasticity, and outstanding neutral behavior when sterilized
with high-energy radiation. Ease of shaping by almost all processing methods and
simple bonding to other materials round
out this list.
The focus of novel styrene polymers
is on improved products rather than on
wholly new polymers. For the user, this
often means a better-customized drop-in
solution that obviates the need for extensive modification to the processing technology. One example of targeted control
over the structure/property design is the
polymerization of styrene and butadiene
by controlled pathways (Fig. 2).
Fig. 3. Tubes with different subdivisions produced of Styroflex
Styroflex 2G66 is an SBC that is ideal for
combining sustainability with improved
product properties [1]. Its special tensile/
elongation properties have proved suitable for creating packaging applications
that feature a combination of improved
strength and reduced film thickness. Styroflex is melt-processable without the
need for further plasticizers. Its structure
renders it eminently suitable for compatibilizing immiscible polymers, a property
that opens up new possibilities for the use
of post-consumer recycled materials. SBC
makes an important contribution to sustainability. At the same time, the material’s
extreme toughness greatly improves the
elongation at break and the stress-cracking resistance of thermoplastics such as
acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) and
high impact polystyrene.
This material has been used by Microspec Corp., Peterborough, New Hampshire, USA, to make the tube systems
Multi-Lumen (Fig. 3). The tubing contains
multiple holes of different diameter that allow different medications to be delivered at
optimal flow rates in a single application.
Methacrylate Butadiene Styrene (MBS)
New applications are continually emerging for crystal-clear, impact-resistant
polymers based on methacrylate butadiene styrene (MBS) in high-growth market
segments, e. g. transparent housing parts
for domestic vacuum cleaners and transparent displays and panels for gym equipment. Applications of MBS materials in
medical technology and in quality packaging of consumer goods are well established, but not yet exhausted.
Fig. 4. The good melt stability and rigidity of MBS enabled these canisters to be blow molded
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Commodity Plastics TREND REPORT
Since MBS is a comparatively small
specialty polymer in volume terms,
there are relatively few suppliers. The
Styrolution Group GmbH produces MBS
resins (type: Zylar) in the USA and will
soon open up two locations in Europe.
In general, these polymers feature a
special block architecture created by
combining the SMMA polymers and
SBC polymers in a single compounding
step. Precision matching of the refractive indices of the two components imbues the multiphase MBS polymers
with high optical clarity, outstanding
ratio of rigidity to toughness, and
very good flowability for demanding injection molded parts. The
Zylar product line ranges from
high-strength brands that possess
sufficient scratch resistance for
display and point-of-sales applications to very tough, softer products for dialyzer housing materials
in medical technology.
Injection molding uses aside,
the properties of MBS support the
production of hollow blow molded
articles, as illustrated by the cleaning-fluid canisters supplied by
Dienes Packaging GmbH, Kaisers­
lautern, Germany (Fig. 4). These are a
highly transparent variant of the established PE canisters.
sis housings, and transparent parts for
Its good chemical resistance also supports the production of transparent and
opaque-colored cosmetic packaging that
features exceptional intensity and color
depth impression.
Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS)
Styrene polymers have customizable surface properties. ABS is suitable for the
electroplating of metallic surfaces of the
kind widely employed in bathrooms or in
the automotive sector (Fig. 5). Electroplated auto parts are an area that imposes
multiple and sometimes conflicting requirements on products. Novodur Ultra
4140PG is a specialty ABS polymer for automotive front-grills, trim and metallized
emblems. It has much greater heat resistance than ABS and has high impact
strength, but does not suffer from the familiar disadvantages of ABS blends, most
of which contain polycarbonate, such as
high melt viscosity at 200 °C and a resultant higher processing temperature relative to styrene polymers.
Methyl Methacrylate Acrylonitrile
­Butadiene Styrene (MABS)
Polymers based on methyl methacrylate acrylonitrile butadiene styrene
(MABS) also rank as specialties within the styrene copolymer family. As
their property profile bears a close
resemblance to that of acrylonitrile
butadiene styrene (ABS), especially
its mechanical properties, and as
some application segments are
therefore similar, they overlap with
the transparent MBS polymers described above. The transparent ABS
polymers, which Styrolution, for example, sells under the trade name
Terlux, outperform MBS materials in
two important properties: resistance to heat and resistance to
chemicals, especially greases and
oils. MABS has firmly established itself among the preferred materials
for numerous medical applications,
such as connectors, filter and dialy-
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TREND REPORT Commodity Plastics
Acrylonitrile Styrene Acrylate (ASA)
Fig. 5. ABS polymers are ideal for electroplating applications, as exemplified here by a radiator
grill made from Novodur Ultra 4140PG
Fig. 6. High-gloss part
made from Luran S
757 G using Mu-Cell
The Authors
Dr. Nobert Niessner is director Global
Research & Development and Intellectual
Property at Styrolution.
Dr. Eike Jahnke is product manager
Transparent Specialties at Styrolution.
Dr. Daniel Wagner is product manager
Transparent Specialties at Styrolution.
Dr.-Ing. Marko Blinzler is director Global
Development Coordination at Styrolution.
Dr. Christian Ruthard is technical pro­
duct manager ABS at Styrolution.
References & Digital Version
BB You can find the list of references
and a PDF file of the article at
German Version
BB Read the German version of the
article in our magazine Kunststoffe or at
ABS is highly versatile and offers important property advantages over other
materials in a wide variety of applications
and industries. The material is also found
in those applications and industries
which are boosted by strong, lasting
trends, such as demographic change, urbanization, and mobility.
Surface properties are a particularly
prominent feature of ABS applications.
Product design is increasingly becoming
the channel for product differentiation. A
good example here is the exclusive interior
designs used by various auto manufacturers and auto models aimed at differentiating themselves more clearly. ABS offers
plenty of scope here by virtue of its existing properties and its potential for further
development. For one thing, components
made from ABS polymers yield highly aesthetic surfaces which are perceived by
consumers as being of particularly high
quality. For another, ABS surfaces are ideal
for further functionalization, e.g., by coating, galvanizing, hot embossing or printing. Specialty ABS grades that confer various significant advantages on surfaces
and meet key requirements, such as increased heat resistance and impact resistance, are already available and are continually being jointly developed with users.
Acrylonitrile styrene acrylate (ASA) picks
up where ABS left off in terms of mechanical properties and mechanics. However, its
outstanding resistance to UV radiation and
chemicals makes it a superior, long-lasting
alternative, particularly for uncoated exterior applications. The market for ASA, too, is
showing signs of product standardization
in the form of base grades that are available in standard black or natural color.
However, the best surface quality and customized part appearance are achieved
with precolored products in which basic
type, pigments and additives are matched
to each other – the vast bulk of business,
especially in Europe, is conducted in this
way. This helps preserve the specialty nature of this product class.
Product and application development
tends to focus on UV resistance, which is a
key property of this product class. Thus,
the new generation of UV-protected ASA
grades from Styrolution, namely Luran S
SPF30, is frequently still being used for demanding automotive projects, such as radiator grills and mirror housings – three
years after its introduction.
The construction sector offers great
potential for ASA in extrusion, e.g. for terrace flooring, wall coverings and window
profiles, but can also impose extreme requirements on durability and color fastness, with the result that the market is
grateful for any improvement in UV resistance. In addition to the above-mentioned ASA material, Styrolution has
rounded out its range of low-gloss grades
for extrusion. A specialty variant of the
standard grade with the abbreviation
Q440 is available globally and yields a durable surface with a gloss <10 % (60 °) on
co-extruded ABS or PVC substrates.
A combination of high-gloss surfaces
and low density has been achieved by using Luran S in conjunction with the MuCell process. The latter, further developed
by KraussMaffei Technologies GmbH, Munich, Germany, yields parts which have
high-quality optics and can made them
with a low shot weight. The physical
blowing agent added during injection
molding generates a fine foam structure
and lowers the density of the finished
part by about 10 %. As a result of the improved processing properties arising
from using a suitable blowing agent to
lower the melt viscosity, the manufac-
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Commodity Plastics TREND REPORT
Fig. 7. The superhydrophobic NanoClean surfaces are based on Luran S
tured panel has a reduced wall thickness
and is some 30 % lighter overall than the
same part produced by conventional
process technology (Fig. 6).
There are other techniques available
for imparting new properties to conventional polymers. Work here is focusing
not so much on the chemical structure or
composition of the polymer, as on tailoring the process technology to the end
use. This applies especially to the design
of surface properties. Nanostructured
surfaces for generating super-hydrophobia, i. e. water-repellent or self-cleaning
surfaces, are the trend to watch out for
here (Fig. 7). An EU consortium project has
shown that for example with laser nanostructuring styrene polymers can yield
superhydrophobic surfaces [3].
ASA+PC blends play only a minor role
in the market but, through their combination of enhanced color fastness and outstanding mechanical properties, represent a good solution for many automotive applications, such as truck exterior
parts. These must offer a combination of
ruggedness and, in the case of large
parts, aesthetic quality at a cost-effective
price, i. e. as far as possible uncoated or, if
coated, with a clear topcoat only. Similarly, dust-repellent, highly heat-resistant
grades are used for demanding applications in the roof console in the interior.
New impetus for developments in this
product class is expected to come from
electronics, due to the simultaneous demand for ruggedness, aesthetics and inherent flame retardance combined with
empirically high cost pressures in this industry segment.
Blends with Polyamide (PA)
By skillfully combining the amorphous
styrene polymers with semi-crystalline
polymers, it is possible to tailor individual property profiles that combine the
positives of both. ABS+PA is the best
known product class here, mostly for its
excellent flowability and impact resis-
tance. A relatively new blend member is
ASA+PA. Terblend S NM-31 from Styrolution, for example, combines the dimensional stability of ASA with the good
melt flow properties of PA6, yielding a
readily processable blend that possesses
good chemical resistance, impact resistance and good color fastness. The
product is an attractive candidate for a
variety of automotive interior applications in which a high-quality surface finish and ruggedness are needed, especially in the cases of bright colors and no
coating, and for which conventional
ABS+PA blends cannot provide the necessary color stability (Title figure).
Aside from automotive interiors, this
material is increasingly being used in
electronics (e. g. for garden tools) and
even in the construction industry, where
the unique combination of toughness,
ease of processing and longevity in a single product make it a cost-effective substitute for existing complex multi-component systems. W
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