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ExxonMobil highlights new metallocene resins

By: Frank Esposito

April 3, 2012

ORLANDO, FLA. (April 3, 8:15 p.m. ET) — ExxonMobil Chemical Co. (Room W203A, B and C) is highlighting new grades and applications for its metallocene polyethylene resins at NPE 2012.

Four processors also are running the firm’s materials at the show. Those four are OMV (Booth 303), Engel Machinery Inc. (Booth 943), Macchi SpA (Booth 5091) and CMD Corp. (Booth 6845).

“We’re continuing to expand the market space for our metallocenes,” polyolefins vice president John Verity said in an interview. “We’ve got more grades that offer more stiffness if you go thinner in films, which had been a challenge.”

Houston-based ExxonMobil makes its metallocene PE grades – sold under the Enable and Exceed brand names - at two plants in Texas, a plant in France and just recently started producing them at its plant in Singapore. Metallocenes now account for about 20 percent of the firm’s total global PE output, according to Verity.

Industrywide, metallocene PE continues to grow at an annual rate of more than 10 percent, which is more than double the growth rate of standard PE, he said.

“We’ve had a very positive response,” Verity added. “Customers are willing to pay for value and performance. We have to talk to them about how the polymers produce value for the business. In heavy duty shipping sacks, we need to show (customers) how metallocenes can allow them to downgauge, for example.

ExxonMobil also is seeing annual growth rates of more than 50 percent for its Vistamaxx-brand propylene plastomers. The firm will open a massive plant with annual capacity of almost 800 million pounds of that material in Singapore by mid-year, Verity said. Like metallocenes, Vistamaxx often is used in film products.

In the broader PE market, Verity said North America should average single digit annual growth for the next several years. The market is still looking to recover to demand levels of 2007, before the regional and global economies declined.

Like many PE makers, ExxonMobil – and its oil giant parent firm - is keeping its eye on the impacts of newfound supplies of natural gas in shale deposits throughout North America. Several firms already have announced capacity expansions for PE or ethylene feedstock, but ExxonMobil hasn’t been among them.

The natural gas situation “has been a dramatic turnaround,” Verity said, but he declined to say whether ExxonMobil will be joining the shale rush.

“ExxonMobil usually studies a situation and doesn’t make an announcement until we’re ready with a project,” Verity added.