Mobil Chemical Co. claims to be the first resin supplier to retrofit a gas-phase polyethylene reactor to use metallocene catalysts and produce commercial quantities of linear low density PE. The retrofit is a step toward increasing the availability and reducing the cost of metallocene-based resins.
``The other shoe has dropped,'' said Ken Sinclair, an industry analyst and consultant with SRI International of Menlo Park, Calif.
Mobil of Fairfax, Va., announced the development March 28. The company plans to present a paper April 26 at the Metallocenes '95 conference in Brussels, Belgium, where it will offer more details about the project to retrofit a gas-phase reactor in Beaumont, Texas.
Sinclair said the significance of the development is that Mobil apparently has adapted metallocene catalyst technology to the most common type of commercial reactor.
``As soon as resins [made with metallocene catalyst technology] become available in a reactor of this size, they become a large-volume product that will be available at prices reflecting their large-volume production,'' Sinclair said in a telephone interview April 11.
``Those resins will demand a premium, but not a 50 cent premium as they have demanded when they have been produced in a pilot plant reactor. Maybe they will demand a premium of 5 cents to 15 cents now,'' Sinclair said.
That would make metallocene resins more competitive with traditional PE, he noted.
Mobil claimed in a news release to have produced a clear, packaging-grade LLDPE that is as strong as the company's Super-Strength-brand hexene copolymer film-grade resin with the optical properties of a clear, conventional high-pressure LDPE packaging film.
A spokesman said no more information will be released until the Brussels conference. Mobil's paper was a last-minute addition to the conference.
Sinclair said industry watchers were expecting Exxon Chemical Co. of Houston to make an announcement about using metallocene catalysts in a gas-phase reactor, and were surprised Mobil made such an announcement first.
Dow Chemical Co. of Midland, Mich., is producing commercial quantities of resin using its own metallocene catalyst technology, but Dow uses a proprietary solution system, not the more widely used gas-phase reactor method.
One industry executive, who spoke only on condition that he not be identified, said it remains to be seen whether Mobil's claims are for a permanent production line or are a temporary measure, and what quantities of resins Mobil is producing.
Separately, Sinclair said Mitsui Plastics Inc. and Ube Industries Inc., both of Tokyo, previously indicated they intended to put metallocene resins into commercial production in a gas-phase reactor by June. Mitsui has a technology development agreement with Exxon.