EXXON TO BOOST LLDPE OUTPUT

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In a move to realize the potential of technological developments it announced two years ago, Exxon Chemical Co. said Jan. 20 it intends to increase production of linear low density polyethylene 45 percent in North America.

Exxon said it will use its patented, supercondensed mode technology combined with metallocene catalyst technology to increase production of LLDPE by 490 million pounds a year at its Mont Belvieu, Texas, complex.

Exxon has two gas-phase Unipol reactors at the Mont Belvieu site. Both reactors will be included in the expansion, which will be under way in the next couple of weeks, and will be completed by mid-1998. The company did not disclose the exact amount of its investment in the project.

The supercondensed mode technology will give Exxon the added capacity — equal to a new production line — at about half the traditional cost of a facility of that size, Jack Crystal, marketing manager for LLDPE resins for Exxon Chemical said Jan. 28 in a telephone interview from Houston.

Exxon has used its supercondensed mode technology in small ways at other facilities since 1995, when it announced it patented the technology.

Use of the technology at Mont Belvieu will be the most comprehensive to date, Crystal said.

Industry executives and analysts previously said Exxon's technology promises to level peaks and valleys in the investment in, and production capacities from PE facilities. By leveling those peaks and valleys, prices for PE also may become more level.

``This is the first operation where we will pull together all of the components to demonstrate the technology completely,'' Crystal said.

The reduced investment derives from the supercondensed mode technology's ability to increase production from a gas-phase polyethylene reactor. Exxon executives previously said the supercondensed mode technology could double or triple the production of PE from existing reactors.

The patented technology builds on condensed mode technology owned by Union Carbide Corp. While Exxon adapts the technology on its own, plans are for it to be licensed through a joint venture that Exxon is establishing with Union Carbide Corp. of Danbury, Conn.

Because of the technology, Exxon's expansion focuses on ancillary and cooling equipment, pelletizing extruders and railroad spurs to haul finished resins. Besides reducing expansion cost, the technology also helps speed expansion, Crystal said.

Crystal said the application of the supercondensed mode technology requires that producers analyze their specific production sites to determine what would be needed to accommodate the increased amount of PE granules.

``For our site, we needed to add extruders to turn the PE granules into pellets, we needed to open the feed system coming into the reactor for ethylene, we needed to add to the cooling system around the reactor, and we needed to improve our hopper car loading area,'' he said.

The Mont Belvieu plant uses Exxon's metallocene catalyst technology to produce the company's Exceed mLLDPE resins. About half of the facility's production is dedicated to traditional LLDPE resins while the rest is metallocene-based LLDPE, Crystal said. That ratio will continue after the expansion, he added.

Exxon will supply its own ethylene for the increased PE production, Crystal said. Ethylene will come from a cracker at Mont Belvieu that is being expanded.

In a separate development, Lyondell Petrochemical Co. of Houston announced Jan. 27 it will increase production of high density PE by 440 million pounds a year by mid-1999.

The expansion will put Lyondell's overall HDPE production capacity at more than 2 billion pounds per year.