Union Carbide Corp. has jumped into the development of single-site, metallocene catalysts for the production of polyolefin resins. Union Carbide, one of the largest producers of polyethylene and the largest licenser of PE production technology in the world, announced Oct. 23 it has developed and patented unique metallocene catalyst technology.
The company expects to use its new technology by the end of 1996 to produce a line of commercial PE resins with enhanced performance characteristics. The technology also can be adapted for production of polypropylene, company executives said.
Further, Union Carbide executives said they expect to license
their metallocene catalyst technology by the end of 1996 to a number of their many, existing licensees who use their gas-phase, Unipol production technology to produce PE.
Union Carbide developed the new catalysts specifically to complement the firm's existing Unipol technology, according to Roger Staub, corporate vicepresident and general manager for Unipol Systems.
Staub, in an Oct. 24 telephone interview from Union Carbide's Danbury, Conn., headquarters, said he could not provide details of Union Carbide's metallocene technology because patents are pending, but revealed that it is based on methylaluminoxane compounds.
``We use a unique chemistry for the metallocene part of the catalyst, and other parts of the catalyst are proprietary. We have patents on certain aspects of the catalyst systems, and we have patents filed and pending on other parts of the systems,'' Staub said.
Union Carbide is planning to use the catalysts in a 100 million-pound-per-year PE production line at its facility in Seadrift, Texas.
David James, vice president for research and development, said the company will produce commercial quantities of polymers early in 1996, and expects to produce ``tens of millions of pounds in 1996.''
Later, he noted, Union Carbide intends to use the catalyst systems at its new Unipol II facility in Star, La.
James said it also is likely that the company will use its metallocene technology at the European production facilities of Polimeri Europa, a Milan, Italy-based joint venture with Eni-Chem Augusta SpA, also of Milan. Polimeri Europa announced in August it intends to build an 880 million pound PE facility - the largest in Europe - in Brindisi, Italy, by 1997.
The Unipol II facility in Louisiana began production in August, using Unipol technology, Staub said. He said the advanced Unipol II process is scheduled to go into production in November.
Union Carbide has said its Unipol II gas-phase process, which uses traditional catalysts in a series of stepped reactors, willproduce resins that compete with low density PE.
Union Carbide is targeting its new, metallocene-based products at density ranges between 0.90 and 0.93, Staub said. At those densities, the resins will compete directly with existing linear LDPE resins.
Staub said sample quantities have shown the new Union Carbide products offer the easy processing of high density PE with greater toughness, clarity and impact strength than existing LDPE resins. Staub said Union Carbide projects that its metallocene-based resins will cost about 3 cents per pound more than existing LLDPE resins.
He acknowledged that Dow Chemical Co. and Exxon Chemical Co., which have been producing commercial grades of metallocene resins for several months, have trimmed their costs to a range of 2 cents to 3 cents higher than existing LLDPE resins, and that Dow and Exxon both appear to be moving to a premium of 1 cent to 11/2 cents over LLDPE.
However, he added, his company expects to be able to trim its production costs in the future - and it expects its Unipol licensees to see similar values -after Union Carbide optimizes the capabilities of its metallocene catalyst systems.
Staub and James said they believe their patent position for metallocene catalysts is and will remain strong.
Dow and Exxon executives have said privately that they expect to battle each other in court at some point over metallocene technology, and the entry of Union Carbide, a firm that does not shy from litigation over patent positions, appears to add new potential for court action.
Exxon and Dow have said publicly they intend to offer their metallocene catalyst technologies to licensees and, until now, industry analysts have said those companies appeared to have patent positions that could place them ahead of Union Carbide as the premier licenser of PE production technology.
``In many respects, we are later in the program than Dow and Exxon, but we have the development of metallocenes in mind since we announced the development of the Unipol II process,'' Staub said.