Methyl ethyl ketone (MEK), also known as is an organic compound with the formula CH3C(O)CH2CH3. This colorless liquid ketone has a sharp, sweet odor reminiscent of butterscotch and acetone. It is produced industrially on a large scale, and also occurs in trace amounts in nature. It is soluble in water and is commonly used as an industrial solvent.
Methyl Ethyl Ketone
MEK is used as a solvent in the surface coating industry, in the dewaxing of lubricating oils, and in the manufacture of colorless synthetic resins, artificial leather, rubbers, lacquers, varnishes, and glues. MEK is seldom used alone in industrial applications; it is usually found in mixtures with acetone, ethyl acetate, n-hexane, toluene, or alcohols.
Use of Methyl Ethyl Ketone
- The primary use of methyl ethyl ketone is as a solvent in processes involving gums,resins, cellulose acetate, and cellulose nitrate.
- Methyl ethyl ketone is also used in the synthetic rubber industry, in the production of paraffin wax, and in household products such as lacquer and varnishes, paint remover and glues.
As a plastic welding agent
MEK dissolves polystyrene and many other plastics, it is sold as "model cement" for use in connecting parts of scale model kits. Though often considered an adhesive, it is actually functioning as a welding agent in this context.
MEK is the precursor to methyl ethyl ketone peroxide, which is a catalyst for some polymerization reactions such as crosslinking of unsaturated polyester resins. Dimethylglyoxime can be prepared from butanone first by reaction with ethyl nitrite to give diacetyl monoxime followed by conversion to the dioxime.
Process operation involves conversion of Secondary Butyl Alcohol (SBA) into Methyl Ethyl Ketone (MEK). Pure secondary butyl alcohol (SBA) is vaporized at 140 Deg.C temperature and at 3.5 bar pressure is given as feed to the MEK reactors. In presence of copper catalyst, the reaction takes place at 260 Deg.Cand 2.0 bar (g) pressure and crude MEK comes out. MEK is then purified. In purification section, water in MEK is stripped off by Hexane addition as an entrained and re-boiled. Purification takes place at a temperature of 95 Deg.C and at pressure of 0.1 bar. Pure MEK in liquid form is stored in storage tanks.
Cetex Petrochemicals Limited located ThiruvallurDistrict,Tamil Nadu - Manali Industrial Area is the only unit in India making MEK. It was established in 1988-1989 by RPG group of companies as a green field petrochemical plant at the petrochemical zone at Manali, Chennai. The plant to manufacture Methyl Ethyl Ketone (MEK) and its intermediate, Secondary Butyl Alcohol (SBA) was set up with Technology from Edeleanu, GMBH, a German company belonging to the then Deutsche Texaco group. After initial difficulties, the plant stabilized operations from 1991 and has been a leading player in the MEK market in India.
The present production capacity of the plant is 12000 TPA of SBA, 10000 TPA of MEK and 2050 TPA of Fine Chemicals. The company is making the following fine chemicals:
- Cinnamic Alcohol – 1080 TPA.
- Anisyl Alcohol – 276 TPA.
- Styrallyl Alcohol – 228 TPA.
- Styrallyl Acetate – 150 TPA.
- Oximone – 20 TPA.
- Phenyl Ethyl Alcohol – 96 TPA.
- Tertiary Butyl Cyclohexyl Acetate – 200 TPA
Expansion and New Project
Cetex Petrochemicals has planned to increase the production quantity of MEK & SBA chemicals and also proposing a new manufacturing facility to produce Methyl Iso Butyl Carbinol (MIBC), Phenyl Propyl alcohol (PPA) and Mixed Alcohol at their existing plant to the following quantities.
- Methyl Ethyl Ketone (MEK) – 5000 TPA.
- Secondary Butyl Alcohol (SBA) – 10000 TPA.
- Methyl Iso Butyl Carbinol (MIBC) – 5000 TPA.
- Phenyl Propyl Alcohol (PPA) – 1000 TPA.
- Mixed Alcohol – 1000 TPA. (Fine Chemical)
Cost for the proposed expansion is estimated at 42 Crores approximately.
Table 1 gives production trend of MEK in India
Substantial quantities of MEK are imported into the country. Imports have grown from 30 thousand tons in 2011-12 valued at Rs. 243 crores to over 45 thousand tons valued at Rs. 360 crores in 2017-18. (See Table 2 for trend in imports of MEK).
Table 2: Imports of MEK into India
Source: DGCIS. Kolkata
Table 3 provides data on sourcewise imports of MEK during last two years. Imports are mainly sourced from Taiwan, Japan, South Africa and China. During 2017-18, Imports from Taiwan constituted 49% of the total imports, while Japan and South Africa constituted around 14% each.
Fig 1 provides the trend in the CIF prices of MEK over the period of last 8 years. The price of MEK dropped in 2015-16 and 2016-17 to a low of Rs. 54 per kg before moving upwards in 2017-18 and 2018-19.
The current MEK prices are Rs. 82 per kg basic for Bulk and Rs. 92 per kg basic for drums.
MEK demand in India during 2017-18 is estimated to be in the region of 50,000-tons. Majority of MEK (52%) is used as a solvent in paints, varnishes, inks and adhesives industries. Methylethyl ketone oxime is the oxime derivative of methyl ethyl ketone. MEKO, as it is called in the paint industry, is used to suppress "skinning" of paints: the formation of a skin on paint before it is used. MEKO functions by binding the drying agents, metal salts that catalyze the oxidative crosslinking of drying oils. Once the paint is applied to a surface, MEKO evaporates, thereby allowing the drying process to proceed.This derivative consumes around 10% of the total consumption. GSFC is the manufacturer of MEK oxime in India consuming around 5,000-tons of MEK.
MEK when reacted with acetaldehyde yields Methyl Pentanone (MPO) which is used to make Iso Super E, one of the most successful synthetic aroma chemicals used in the perfumery industry. This application consumes around 12% of the total MEK consumption.
Another 8% of MEK is used in making derivative MEK peroxide, which is used as a catalyst for some polymerization reactions such as crosslinking of unsaturated polyester resins.
The balance of the MEK is used in many other smaller applications.
The global MEK market in volume terms has grown from 1.4 mn tons in 2014 to 1.82 mn tons in 2018 registering a CARG of 6.8%. In value terms the market has grown from USD 2.8 billion in 2017, and is anticipated to reach over USD 4 billion mark by 2024, growing at a CAGR of 4.5% over the period of 2018-2024.
Its growing demand in paints & coatings applications due to rise in construction expenditure is anticipated to drive the market growth in future. It is also used along with alcohol to produce products like drugs, anesthetics, antiseptics, and lotions.
The higher solvency and lower density of ketones compared to the corresponding ester substitutes contribute to reduced VOC content just by changing to ketone solvents such as MEK. Owing to the dual functionality, MEK has slow evaporation rate, complete solubility in water and high solvent strength which gives it a unique advantage as a solvent in water-based coatings.
Printing ink applications segment is projected to witness a substantial growth over the forecast period owing to the extensive use of MEK in printing. MEK allows formation of specialized inks and offers benefits such as exceptional drying as well as adhesion to substrates like glass, plastics and metals.
The MEK market is fairly concentrated, with the top 10 world producers accounting for nearly 80% of global capacity in 2018. The three largest global suppliers of MEK are China, Japan, and Western Europe, accounting for nearly 85% of the total global capacity as of mid-2018.
In 2018, Asia is expected to account for nearly 70% of the total world consumption of MEK. Paints and coatings continue to consume the majority of MEK, and little change in the world MEK market breakdown is expected by 2023. Adhesives make up the second-largest share of the MEK market in 2018, and represent the largest and fastest-growing market in China, where consumption is largely for the manufacture of shoes.
Western European MEK demand has been impacted by increased use of recycling and process optimization. There has been widespread interest in reformulating to replace or reduce MEK usage, especially in times of supply shortages or high prices. Only slight growth in MEK consumption is expected in Japan, but the country will continue to be a significant supplier to the export market.
Key players in the global MEK market are: Sasol, Cetex Petrochemicals, AkzoNobel N.V., Arkema S. A., ExxonMobil Chemical, Shell Chemicals, Ineos Solvents, PetroChina Lanzhou Petrochemicals, Idemitsu Kosan Co. Ltd, Tonen Chemicals, Maruzen Petrochemical Co Ltd. and SK Energy Co. Ltd.
Fig 2: Consumption Pattern of MEK in India
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