Meltblown nonwovens are one of the “spunlaid” nonwoven processes and products. In 2023, it is the smallest spunlaid nonwoven (in volume), behind spunbond and SMS (spunbond/meltblown/spunbond). According to The Future of Meltblown Nonwovens Markets to 2028
, a new report from Smithers, in 2023 meltblown accounts for 1.8% of all nonwovens consumed and 1.8% of all nonwoven sales.
The global consumption of meltblown nonwovens in 2023 is 253,500 tonnes or 4.0 billion square metres (m2), valued at $1.0 billion. Growth rates for 2018-23 were 5.6% (tonnes), 5.3% (m2) and 6.3% ($). These rates and consumption volumes and values were elevated due to the effect of Covid-19 in 2020-21. Market corrections began in 2022, and projections are for a “new normal” in market data for 2023-28.
Growth rates for 2023-28 are forecast at 4.9% (tonnes), 6.6% (m2), and 6.2% ($). This reflects the market corrections expected. A review of the total 2018-28 growth rates, which minimize the effects of Covid-19, shows 5.0% (tonnes), 6.0% (m2), and 6.3% ($). These rates are close to historical growth rates for meltblown nonwovens.
Russian invasion of Ukraine
In 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine, incurring massive sanctions by North America, Europe and many other nations. As Russia is one of the three largest petroleum producers in the world and was a major supplier to Europe prior to the invasion, the biggest short term issues were energy cost and supply, globally but especially in Europe. Inflation rose significantly and fears of shortages and allocation during the winter of 2022-23 abounded. Fortunately, a mild winter followed by the belated ramp up of exports from North America has resulted in oil prices rapidly returning to pre-invasion levels. The invasion of Ukraine in 2022 did have a short-term effect on polypropylene price and availability, but the longer-term effects on meltblown may be the resulting inflation and potential global recession.
Impact of Covid-19
The rapid and massive increase in meltblown production capacity desperately needed in 2020-21 for face masks will leave a legacy of oversupply through 2028. Demand “corrections” are underway in 2022-23, as excess inventory and waning demand combine to reduce consumption dramatically. Projections are that over 2023-28, meltblown consumption will return to near pre-Covid levels and growth rates.
The major sustainability issue with meltblown nonwovens is the dependence on non-biodegradable, petroleum-based polymers (plastics). There are several opportunities to improve sustainability through reducing waste, basis weight, recycling, and use of biodegradable/biopolymers.
In terms of legislation, the EU Directive on Single-use Plastics has garnered the most attention from the nonwovens industry. This directive is primarily targeting marine litter but targets a wide variety of products with a wide variety of actions. The main nonwoven end-use targeted is wipes, which fall under Sanitary Products in the EU Directive on Single-Use Plastics. While no outright ban of wipes is suggested, action items requested include: improved labelling, awareness raising measures (consumer education) and extended producer responsibility.
Stand-alone meltblown nonwovens participate significantly in only a small number of end-use markets. Historically, filtration, sorbents and insulation are the largest end-uses. Wipes and medical end-uses are smaller but significant markets, while hygiene is a very small segment for stand-alone meltblown. In 2020-21, driven by Covid-19, medical face masks and other medical personal protective equipment became the largest end use by far, increasing from about 7% of meltblown tonnes consumed in 2019 to over 33% of meltblown tonnes consumed in 2020. Forecasts for 2028 have medical face mask volume returning to about 6% of total meltblown tonnes.