Sodium Hypochlorite Contends with Chlorine Challenges
February 28, 2022
Bleach (also known as Sodium Hypochlorite) is made from a pale, yellow-green gas known as Chlorine. This gas is created during the Chlor-alkali process, as a “co-product” of Sodium Hydroxide and Hydrogen gas.
Although the word ‘Chlorine’ may immediately make you think of the notorious ‘pool smell’, Bleach is not the only end-use for the Chlorine molecule. Chlorine is also used to create at least a couple of dozen other products, including PVC, vinyl, resins, solvents, paint additives & herbicides. These other end-use products are in high demand, and in many cases produce a higher net return than Sodium Hypochlorite; producers can make more money off of them. In fact, Bleach is now beginning to be seen as a product that takes the Chlorine molecule away from other higher-value end-use applications.
Besides all of the internal competition for Chlorine, the Chlor-Alkali plants that produce Chlorine and Caustic Soda haven’t been running at full capacity. Chlor-Alkali plants and their investors have come to see that rationalizing capacity has helped to restore what has been considered lackluster margins for a number of years. As a result, we have seen multiple plants mothballed over the past couple of years, and the remaining plants are often being run short of full capacity.
Since there is less of the raw material Chlorine in the market, and many higher-value end-uses for the Chlorine that IS available, the price of Chlorine has shot up by very large increments (approx. 350%). The current challenge in the Chlorine market is making it hard for producers to commit to firm pricing for any length of time. It is also leading to the start-up of some mini salt-to-bleach plants (like a mini Chlor-alkali plant) here & there. It will be interesting to see if these new plants are able to add noticeable capacity and any real competition in the market. Another factor that could change the market, that is worth keeping an eye on, is an increase in import Caustic Soda. This could lead to a need to further reduce operating rates and tighten Chlorine supply even further.
In the meantime, prices for Sodium Hypochlorite are widely on the rise. Not surprisingly, other issues with logistics, like truck driver shortages, aren’t helping. With further questions on the Sodium Hypochlorite market, reach out to a representative.