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The word "wax" usually refers to a variety of organic substances that are solid at ambient temperature but become free-flowing liquids at slightly higher temperatures. The chemical composition of waxes is complex, but normal alkanes are always present in high proportion and molecular weight profiles tend to be wide. The main commercial source of wax is crude oil but not all crude oil refiners produce wax. "Mineral" wax can also be produced from lignite. Plants, animals and even insects produce materials sold in commerce as "wax."
Source: Global Wax Industry 2010: Market Analysis and Opportunities, Kline & Company
North American wax consumption is estimated at approximately 3 billion pounds a year, split between two major markets, packaging materials and all others. Although packaging represents only 30% of the market, the world has historically viewedthis segment as the entire wax business, and continues to today. Think of how wax was used thirty years ago, and how it is still being used - waxed paper, milk cartons, paper drinking cups, etc. Packaging was and still is one of the primary markets for wax. However, packaging uses for wax are currently forecast to continue to decline, while overall wax demand is expected to grow in line with economic growth (currently 2-3% per annum).
This growth in demand is driven by a number of new uses for the material. Markets for wax are truly diverse, ranging from simple fuel in manufactured fire logs and candles, to practical applications such as adhesives, anti-oxidation agents in tires, and sizing in construction materials, to even more exotic uses in cosmetics and foods. Although, the largest single consumer of wax in North America remains the packaging area, followed by candles, and then building materials.
Here with some examples:
Building materials: wax is added as a water repellent in the production of wood-based manufactured composite boards such as particle board, medium density, oriented strand and other board products.
Candles: one of the oldest uses of wax, but still vital. No longer used for primary illumination, candles are the fastest growing segment of the wax market with new decorative and therapeutic uses.
Chlorinated paraffins: chemicals manufactured by chlorination of paraffin waxes. The largest application for chlorinated paraffins is as a plasticiser and flame-retardant in flexible PVC. It is also used as an extreme pressure-additive for metalworking fluids and other lubricants.
Corrugated board: food-grade wax is applied to corrugated containers in order to provide strength and waterproofing for food packaging during transportation.
Coatings: wax can be used to form a coating that allows oxygen to pass but not water; generating numerous applications in such diverse areas as cosmetics, food, packaging, furniture, time release properties, etc.
Flexible packaging: Food-grade waxes and wax blends are used in laminating compounds and surface coatings to provide strength, to waterproofing, and improve appearance and moisture-vapor transmission.
Cosmetics and pharmaceuticals: fully-refined wax is non-toxic, and many products are approved for direct use in food and personal care formulations. Waxes are widely used in the cosmetic industry in products such as lipstick, mascara, moisturizing creams and sunblock.
Chewing gum: chewing gum base is a compound of elastomers, resin and food-grade wax to which other materials are added to produce chewing gum. Hard, high melt-point waxes are used in this application, including microcrystalline and candelilla waxes.
Crayons: Food grade wax provides the solid structure for a crayon and, since most crayon users are young children, its non-toxic characteristics are critical.
Fire logs: a modern convenience product, wax acts as both a binder and as fuel.
Food: Food grade wax is used to cover certain types of cheese that would dehydrate if not properly protected. It is sprayed on citrus and other fruit to protect from oxidation and enhance appearance, and in meat and bone wraps.
Hot melt adhesives: waxes are present in most hot melt adhesive formulations to control the viscosity of the adhesive and contribute to open time, flexibility and elongation.
Inks: graphical printing inks include wax in their formulation as an anti-scuff agent.
Investment casting: in the "lost wax" method of casting jewelry, and other industrial products, a wax model of the piece is made and used to create a clay mold. The wax is melted out and the clay is used to cast the final piece.
Polishes: the application of waxes to wooden floors to improve their appearance and provide protection dates back several hundred years. It serves to retard the penetration of air and moisture, thereby increasing the life of the flooring material as well as preventing abrasion by surface grit.
PVC: two different lubricants are used in the manufacture of polyvinyl chloride thermoplastic: internal and external; and two different types of wax are used in the lubricants. Internal lubricants are formulated to help PVC flow in the manufacturing process by forming a solution with PVC. External lubricants are not soluble in PVC and can produce a film between the PVC and its extrusion equipment.
Tire and rubber: wax is a vital component in rubber tire formulations and is added for protection from atmospheric ozone that will "dry" unprotected rubber, causing cracking that compromises the strength of the tire. Wax creates a physical barrier between the tire surface and the atmosphere.
U.S. wax production grew at a compound rate of about 3.1% per annum from 1982 to 1998, when the impact of industry consolidation and new base oil technology became significant. The production peak in 1996 is exaggerated due to product definition issues, but the trend line is true. Between 1998 and 2002, annual wax production fell from 2,480 MM# to 1900 MM#, about 23% as several small base oil plants shut down and another large one converted from MEK dewaxing process to wax hydroisomerization technology in order to manufacture higher quality Group II base oils. Wax imports have grown steadily throughout this period, about 6.1% per annum according to Energy Information Agency (EIA) reporting, while wax exports grew at an annual rate of 9.1%. In 1953, there were 67 base oil plants in the U.S., about half of them producing some type of wax. Today, there are eight U.S. wax producers.
American Refining Group
Calumet Lubricants Company
Ergon – West Virginia
Baton Rouge, La.
N. Salt Lake City, Utah
The International Group
Total - US
Imperial Oil Ltd.
Total - Canada
(1) Thousands of barrels per calendar day
In North America, eight companies currently manufacture finished or semi-refined waxes at nine locations in North America; not all companies produce both semi-refined and fully refined waxes. Product distribution is about 40/60 between finished and semi-refined, though this can be misleading because semi-refined is sold as feedstock to fully-refined producers, as well as being sold into end-use markets. A typical wax producer in North America produces wax concurrently with base oils at an integrated solvent dewaxing/deoiling unit, although there are also "stand-alone" deoiling plants producing finished wax from purchased feedstocks. An average finished wax plant produces about 1,000 barrels a day of product, or 100 MM pounds a year. About half of U.S. wax manufacturers produce low oil content, finished waxes, and the rest simply recover slack wax from their operations (although one producer sells residual material from waxy crude without further processing). Curiously, no integrated Canadian refiner or Caribbean plants produce finished wax. North American producers operate only solvent deoiling processes. There are other technologies available for deoiling, including sweating and fractional crystallization; the latter process is the only practical alternate for large scale production. After deoiling, product wax is typically finished by hydrogenation or clay treating to decolorize it and assure FDA compliance where required.
With the exception of 2000, wax imports stayed within 1,000 barrels per day of exports from 1999 – 2005. This ratio began to change in 2006 with the tariff on parrifin wax candles imported from the People's Republic of China. However, in subsequent years, the delta narrowed as imports, particularly from Southeast Asia, entered the U.S. market.
Source: International Trade Agency
Given the current state of flux in the North American lubricants business, there are three strategic concerns for its wax co-products: attrition of base oil manufacturing facilities, the rising trend of imports and the advent of new process technologies, specifically Gas-to-Liquids (GTL) and Coal-to-Liquids technologies capable of co-producing premium waxes along with sulfur free fuels and premium lubricants.
ASTM/IP Standards Applicable to Petroleum Waxes
Melting Point of Petroleum Wax
Drop Melting Point of Petroleum Wax, Including Petrolatum
Saybolt Color of Petroleum Products (Saybolt Chromometer Method)
Kinematic Viscosity of Transparent and Opaque Liquids (and the Calculation of Dynamic Viscosity)
Carbonizable Substances in Paraffin Wax
Oil Content of Petroleum Waxes
Cone Penetration of Petrolatum
Congealing Point of Petroleum Waxes, Including Petrolatum
Distillation of Petroleum Products at Reduced Pressure
Needle Penetration of Petroleum Waxes
Blocking and Picking of Petroleum Wax
ASTM Color of Petroleum Products (ASTM Color Scale)
Peroxide Number of Petroleum Wax
Odor of Petroleum Wax
Ultraviolet Absorbance and Absorptivity of Petroleum Products
Method for Surface Wax on Waxed Paper or Cardboard
Coefficient of Kinetic Friction for Wax Coatings
Apparent Viscosity of Petroleum Waxes Compounded with Additives (Hot Melts)
Boiling Range Distribution of Petroleum Fractions by Gas Chromatography
Solvent Extractables in Petroleum Waxes
Apparent Viscosity of Hot Melt Adhesives and Coating Materials
Total Wax Loading of Corrugated Paperboard
Petroleum, Petroleum Products, and Lubricants
Selection of Geometric Conditions for Measurement of Reflection and Transmission Properties of Materials
Dropping Point of Waxes