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Shell Chemical Co. will begin construction this summer on its first U.S.-based production plant for the company's Carilon-brand engineering thermoplastic polymer.

The 87,500-square-foot plant will be built at Shell's existing chemical facility in Geismar, La. Officials at the Houston-based company said the plant, which will create almost 100 new jobs, is expected to be operational by early 1999.

The plant's annual capacity will be 55 million pounds. The timing of a second construction phase, which would double that capacity, will be based on market demand. Construction cost was not disclosed.

Carilon is an aliphatic polyketone engineering polymer expected to compete with such resins as nylon and acetal, according to Ellen McGowan, Shell's business manager for polyketones.

McGowan said Carilon offers a balance of properties between impact, stiffness, hydrolytic stability, toughness and abrasion resistance. Carilon is expected to have uses in the automotive, electric and electronic and industrial pipe industries.

Automotive uses include fuel systems; connectors and switch gears are among Carilon's electric uses. Company officials also claim Carilon offers increased longevity and chemical resistance when used as a pipe liner.

Cycle times that are as much as 30 percent faster than those of traditional materials are another advantage Carilon offers, company officials said.

The success of Shell's initial Carilon plant, a 40 million-pound facility opened last year in Carrington, England, convinced Shell officials to go ahead with the stateside launch, McGowan said.

Late last year, Shell signed Carilon supply agreements with LNP Engineering Plastics Inc. of Exton, Pa., and RTP Co. of Winona, Minn.

The Carilon line is the end result of a process that began in 1982, when a Shell scientist accidentally discovered the copolymer that aliphatic polyketones are based on during an unrelated catalyst technology project in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.