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LAPORTE, TEXAS — Noltex LLC announced it will expand production capacity for Soarnol ethylene vinyl alcohol copolymer in LaPorte by late 1998.

The LaPorte-based firm said the project will double LaPorte's capacity of the barrier resin to 35.2 million pounds per year. EVOH demand is rising about 15 percent annually, according to Noltex.

The resin's main uses are as an oxygen barrier in plastic packaging and as a gas barrier in automotive fuel tanks.

The LaPorte facility supplies North American and European markets.

Noltex is a 75-25 joint venture between Nippon Gohsei (USA) Co. and Mitsubishi Chemical America Inc., respectively.

Noltex bought the LaPorte facility from DuPont Co. in 1994 and about a year ago brought on stream one of LaPorte's two lines, after converting it to Nippon Gohsei's technology.

The expansion will start up LaPorte's other line.

Noltex also said Nippon Gohsei plans to add 4.4 million pounds of EVOH capacity at its Mizushima, Japan, plant by next spring, bringing its total to 22 million pounds per year.

Soarus LLC of Arlington Heights, Ill., markets Noltex's and Nippon Gohsei's EVOH in North America, according to John Machonis, Soarus' director.

Nippon Synthetic Chemical Co. Ltd. of Osaka, Japan, owns most of Soarus but Mitsubishi has no direct interest in Soarus, he said in a telephone interview. Nippon Gohsei is a unit of Nippon Synthetic Chemical.