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Westlake launches ethylene expansion

By: Frank Esposito

January 14, 2013

Westlake Chemical Corp. has launched work on a project that will add 230 million pounds of annual capacity for plastic feedstock ethylene at its plant in Lake Charles, La.

The 60-day project will include a planned maintenance turnaround that will take the unit offline, officials with Houston-based Westlake said in a Jan. 10 news release.

Westlake first announced the Lake Charles expansion in April 2011. An expansion of a second ethylene cracker at the site is scheduled by the end of 2014. President and CEO Albert Chao said at the time that new technical developments in the natural gas industry “make expansion in North America attractive.”

Natural gas can be used as a feedstock to make ethane, which is then converted into ethylene, which is a primary feedstock for polyethylene, PVC and other plastic resins. Newfound supplies of natural gas are being developed throughout North America.

Westlake also is planning to add ethylene and PVC resin capacity at its plant in Calvert City, Ky. A project announced for that site in October would add 180 million pounds of annual ethylene capacity and almost 200 million pounds of annual PVC capacity. The Calvert City expansion is expected to cost between $210 million and $240 million. No cost estimate for the Lake Charles expansion was included in the Jan. 10 release.

Several other North American plastics and chemicals makers — including Dow Chemical Co., Nova Chemical Corp. and Shell Chemical Co. — also are adding capacity to take advantage of low-priced natural gas.

Westlake’s portfolio of plastics and chemicals includes PVC, low density polyethylene, ethylene, vinyl chloride monomer and caustic soda, as well as PVC pipe and related products through its North American Pipe unit.

Through the first nine months of 2012, Westlake’s sales basically were flat at just under $2.8 billion, but its nine-month profit jumped 25 percent to just over $290 million when compared to the year-ago period.