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Fina Oil and Chemical Co. of Dallas announced Feb. 7 it intends to build one of the world's largest polypropylene production lines at its PP facility in La Porte, Texas.

Fina will build the line — its ninth at La Porte — to produce 550 million pounds of PP a year. The firm claims the La Porte complex currently is the largest production site for PP in the world.

The line is scheduled to be in production by late 1998. It will move Fina into its first production of impact copolymer PP for injection molding and other applications, said Jim Bob Carpenter, general manager for PP resins.

The line also will strengthen Fina's position as a supplier to the automotive, appliance, housewares, toys and other markets, Carpenter said in a Feb. 13 telephone interview.

Fina will produce new homopolymer resin products on the line, and intends to use those and other products to supply customers in fiber and film markets, he said.

Carpenter said the new production line also will mark Fina's first move into gas-phase reactor technology for PP resins. The line will use Spheripol production technology licensed from Montell Polyolefins.

It will have one bulk loop reactor that will feed homopolymer resins into one or two gas-phase reactors that will produce the impact copolymer resins, Carpenter said. Fina has not decided how many gas-phase reactors it will build, he said.

Fina will feed the huge reactor propylene made at a splitter in Mount Belview, Texas, in which it shares ownership with Diamond-Shamrock Corp., Carpenter said.

The new production line will give Fina capacity to produce more than 2 billion pounds of PP a year in the United States. That production capacity might move Fina to the second-place position as a PP producer in the United States, Carpenter said.

Montell of Hoofddorp, the Netherlands, is the largest PP producer in the world. Montell currently produces more than 2 billion pounds in the United States, and more than 2.7 billion pounds in North America.

Amoco Chemical Co. of Alpharetta, Ga., has the capacity to produce nearly 1.8 billion pounds of PP in the United States.

Fina now produces 1.5 billion pounds of PP in the United States, Carpenter said.

Exxon Chemical Co. of Houston is building a PP production line in Baytown, Texas, with the capacity to produce 500 million to 600 million pounds of PP a year. That line is to be put into production by July. When that line is complete, Exxon will have the capacity to produce nearly 1.6 billion pounds of PP a year.

Epsilon Products Co. of Marcus Hook, Pa., is also adding PP capacity. The company said Jan. 30 it intends to build a PP plant by 1999 to produce 800 million pounds of resin a year.

Epsilon said it is joining Marathon Oil Co. of Houston in a strategic alliance to build the PP facility at Marathon's refinery in Garyville, La.

Marathon now produces chemical-grade propylene at Garyville, and plans for the polypropylene plant include construction of purification facilities to produce polymer-grade propylene.

The 800 million-pound PP facility will mirror a similar plant Epsilon built at its Marcus Hook property.

Epsilon will own and operate the polymerization facility at Garyville, while Marathon will own and operate the propylene splitter and purification facilities, Jamie Mosberg, director of product management for Epsilon, said.

Mosberg said the Garyville plant will produce homopolymer, impact copolymer and random copolymer PP. The production ratios will be similar to those at Marcus Hook: 40 percent homopolymer, 40 percent impact copolymer, and the rest will be random copolymer, he said.

The Garyville facility will have two production lines with three PP reactors, Mosberg said. One production line will have two reactors to produce impact copolymer.

The firms will invest $200 million to $300 million in the new plant, William Ryder, spokesman for Marathon, said. Marathon is part of USX-Marathon Group, a unit of USX Corp. of Pittsburgh.