Data released today by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) confirms what U.S. plastics manufacturers have been seeing firsthand of late – solid growth in plastics production and exports, combined with improved efficiencies, which allow their businesses to draw less energy from our nation’s abundant natural gas supply.
The graph above tells the story. The blue line represents exports of raw plastics, which has almost tripled since 2001, while the energy used to make plastic resins has declined by almost half since 2002. (And in fact, since 1974, the date of the first oil price shock, fuel and power use per pound of plastic has improved 63 percent.)
Using less raw materials and energy, while at the same time leading a surge in U.S. plastic resins exports, is a feat all its own. But when greater efficiency is paired with the relatively low cost of natural gas, raw U.S. plastics production becomes one “hot commodity on international markets,” as the editors at Real Clear Energy put it, with China one of our biggest customers.
Plastics already represent a very efficient use of energy – plastic packaging is lighter and uses less raw material than alternatives, plastics parts make cars lighter and more energy efficient, and plastic roofs, windows and insulation are helping homes and commercial buildings save more energy than ever before. Combine energy saved by these products with tremendous gains in manufacturing efficiencies, driven by a torrent of economic benefits from robust, inexpensive supplies of shale gas, our economy and our environment both benefit.
And yet, we are just getting started.
As we blogged last November, more than 20 states have announced at least three plastic product manufacturer projects since June 2012. Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Texas and Kentucky already lay claim to 73.
With even greater efficiencies, a long-term, steady supply of affordable natural gas, and increased plastics production as new projects come online, we can look forward to America’s plastics makers driving U.S. innovation and economic growth for many years to come.