By: Robert Grace
October 22, 2013
DÜSSELDORF, GERMANY — Nylon 6/6 resin producer Ascend Performance Materials Inc. highlighted the benefits of its recently commissioned compounding line in Pensacola, Fla., and launched a pair of new materials at the K show.
The previously announced Pensacola line – which came on stream in July – adds 30,000 metric tons of production capacity to Ascend's portfolio, which represents 33 percent increase. The firm – which began life as part of Monsanto Co., then was a unit of Solutia Inc., before being bought out by in 2009 private investment firm SK Capital Partners – said the highly integrated, 600-acre petrochemical complex in Pensacola allows it to make very consistent, clean compounds. It is said to yield materials with significantly improved viscosity and mechanical properties, as well as reduced mold deposits known as "plate-out."
The new Pensacola line will focus on producing high-volume compounds with glass-fiber fillings of 25 to 50 percent, while the firm's 55,000-tonne Foley, Ala., facility will produce more specialized grades.
In an Oct. 19 media event on its K stand (Hall 7.1/B35), Scott Rook, vice president of plastics, noted that Ascend has more than doubled its resin capacity since 2005. Global technology director Steven Manning said the company also has almost doubled its research and development spending in the past four years.
That has helped drive new-product development, including the new grades Ascend introduced at the show:
• Vydyne R53HR is targeted at under-the-hood automotive applications, particularly engine cooling components. The glass-filled nylon 6/6 offers improved high-temperature and hydrolysis performance compared with previous grades.
• Vydyne Eco 366, meanwhile, is a high-flow, halogen-free grade whose fast-cycling properties make it appropriate for the electronics market's increasingly smaller hand-held devices.
Rook said Ascend has a market advantage in that it is the only nylon 6/6 producer that uses propylene-based technology rather than the more commonly used C4 butadiene-based method to make the key intermediate adiponitrile, or ADN. The shale gas boom in North America is expected to yield a wealth of propane gas that can be converted into propylene via the propane dehydrogenation (PDH) process.
Ascend declined again to provide many further details about the massive feedstock petrochemical plant it indicated earlier this year it may build in Alvin, Texas – and which likely would use the PDH process. The initial announcement described it as a $1.2 billion plant. The company has selected its preferred technology and been granted environmental permits, but Rook said it's likely to be another six months or so before any firm decisions will be made.
Finally, Rook noted that Ascend has realized several new automotive programs in recent months, in part as automakers look to lessen their supply risk and broaden their vendor base, after a disastrous nylon 12 production outage caused by a fatal 2012 plant explosion in Germany that nearly shut down auto production lines worldwide.
"Global OEMs are touring the site in Pensacola quite often now." We've seen some new business and much interest," but such automotive programs have a long lead time, he noted.