US demand for natural polymers is forecast to expand at a strong 6.9 percent annual pace to $4.6 billion in 2016, reaching 1.7 billion pounds. Growth will stem from continued trends favoring natural ingredients in the large food and beverage industry. In particular, this will support demand for cellulose ethers, as well as natural gums. A favorable outlook for oilfield drilling will bode well for guar gum and other natural polymers that are used as additives in drilling and stimulation (fracturing) fluids. Growth will continue to be impacted by the climatic and political uncertainties associated with natural products that are derived from plants that are grown only in certain parts of the world. These and other trends are presented in Natural Polymers, a new study from The Freedonia Group, Inc. (, a Cleveland-based industry market research firm.

Cellulose ethers represent the single largest natural polymer type, accounting for over one-third of the market. Methyl cellulose will continue to lead the category, although demand for microcrystalline cellulose (MCC), carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC), and hydroxyethyl cellulose (HEC) will also be significant. Methyl cellulose is widely used in construction materials and will therefore benefit from a notable rebound in construction activity. The improving construction outlook will also fuel rapid growth for HEC, which is utilized primarily in water-based paint.

Exudate and vegetable gums are projected to enjoy the most rapid gains through 2016, with guar gum accounting for the vast majority of growth. This will nevertheless represent a deceleration from the stellar gains achieved between 2001 and 2011, when demand for guar gum skyrocketed due to the rising use of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling in the US oil and gas industry.

Among the other types of natural polymers, starch and fermentation products will see particularly healthy gains, supported by the rising use of xanthan gum in oilfield applications and the increasing availability of polylactic acid. In the protein-based polymer sector, collagen will find greater use in wound dressings, but will face competition from alternative materials in the cosmetic injectables segment. Marine polymers will be restricted by their use in mature applications and by competition from other natural polymers.