DOW LAUNCHING NEW FAMILY OF PE RESINS

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TOKYO — Dow Chemical Co. announced last week that it has developed proprietary technology for a new line of polyethylene resins, dubbed Elite enhanced PE.

Dow explained in news conferences in Tokyo, New York and London that the Elite resins are not just a new twist on existing linear low density PE, but an entirely new family of products designed to deliver property combinations and performance standards previously not available in conventional PE.

The resins are the latest in a series of products made via Midland, Mich.-based Dow's Insite catalyst technology, which the company claims enables precise control over polymer structure and resulting properties. Dow claims the resins are ``second-cousin'' to previously commercialized metallocene PE resins.

Elite resins have higher stiffness and impact strength than conventional PE, in addition to both high stretch and high puncture resistance, and improved sealability.

``Competing polyethylene chemistries based on metallocene technology claim to offer resins with improved performance, but often the improved performance comes with a sacrifice in processability,'' said Andy DuPont, commercial director for Polyethylenes for Dow Pacific. The Elite resins ``offer outstanding physical property combinations while sustaining good processability.''

The product roll-out will come as a shock to the ``dozens and dozens'' of processors who already are using Elite resins in their products, Mike Williams, Dow's business development manager for enhanced PE, said from New York.

``We worked with customers for literally a couple of years,'' Williams said. ``There are a number of customers who are currently out with products in the marketplace, but because [Elite] was developed in secrecy, we're not at freedom to identify them today.''

Initially, four commercial resins will be available, all in compliance with Food and Drug Administration regulations for direct food contact:

Elite 5100 for thick- and thin-gauge consumer and industrial blown film, including vertical and horizontal form/fill/seal applications, and blown seal stretch films.

Elite 5110 for thick- and thin-gauge consumer and industrial blown film, including heavy-duty shipping sacks, blown stretch films, refuse sacks and shopping bags.

Elite 5200 for cast stretch film, including industrial pallet wrap.

Elite 5400 for high-performance films, including food and specialty blown films for frozen food, laminations and medical packaging.

Dow plans to expand the line into nonpackaging applications including extruded sheet, durable injection molded goods and extruded profiles.

Commercial quantities of all four grades are available from Dow's Plaquemine, La., facility, which currently has production capacity of 440 million pounds per year. Dow will add another 550 million pounds of capacity in Freeport, Texas, in 1998.

Dow also plans capacity of 550 million pounds per year in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, by the first quarter of 1998, and 660 million pounds at its joint venture plant in Map-Ta-Phut, Thailand. In addition, a planned European site will be able to make 460 million pounds per year by the first quarter of 1998.

According to Dow, Elite resins can be made at LLDPE plants, although the company does not consider them to be new grades of LLDPE.

The new resins will be priced at a 3-6 cent-per-pound premium relative to the company's line of Dowlex products. Dow expects some processors could realize long-term savings by downgauging their current products, Williams said.

Dow is working on applying Insite technology to its polypropylene resins.

According to Dow, parts of the technology, such as its catalyst, can be licensed, while the technology in its entirety will remain Dow's exclusively.

Staff reporter Craig Urey contributed to this story.