NEW YORK - Because of what it claims is a breakthrough in catalyst technology, DuPont Co. is considering a significant expansion of its presence in the polyole-fins business. At a Jan. 26 news conference in New York, John A. Krol, president and chief executive officer of DuPont, and Joseph A. Miller Jr., senior vice president for research and develop-ment, revealed that DuPont has applied for a patent on new, homogeneous catalyst technology for polyolefin production.
``This is the largest and most comprehensive patent ever filed in the history of DuPont,'' Miller said.
``The new catalysts are for polyolefin production, and let us produce new polymer structures for new applications,''Miller said.
However, he and Krol both steered clear of providing details on the catalyst system, saying those details will be revealed during the next several months.
Covering what Miller described as ``breakthrough research,'' the patent application is contained in 500 pages, and has 500 claims, including claims on composition of matter, and 500 examples of applications and processes, he said.
The catalyst system is not a metallocene, Miller said, but is a new generation of catalysts that allows single-site catalytic conversions of polymers while allowing DuPont to ``twist'' polymers to achieve new perform-ance characteristics.
The catalysts ``will allow us to create wholly new polymer structures with new properties for new applications in every one of our polymer-based businesses,'' Miller said.
``We can use it to make poly-mers we already know better, we can use it to make polymers we already know cheaper, we can use it to make polymers we didn't know before,'' he added.
``Polyolefins could be a new business for DuPont,'' Krol said during a discussion of the criteria he has set for the company's business units.
Krol's criteria for new businesses includes providing results that can not be matched by competitors for five years, an ability to improve aftertax income by 50 percent over a five-year period, and an ability to contribute $100 million in sales within five years.
Existing businesses are expected to yield productivity gains of 6 percent per year while increasing sales 8 percent and profit 10 percent a year globally, Krol said.
Miller noted that DuPont will be a $90 billion company within 10 years by meeting those goals.
Krol said DuPont will continue to consider acquisitions, joint ventures and alliances.
Miller later added the possibility of licensing technology, and said DuPont may use any one of these avenues to turn polyolefins into a major business.
The scope of the patent DuPont has applied for gives the firm flexibility, Miller said.
``There are five or six diverse elements and polymers associated with this polyolefins catalyst, including composition of matter and processing technologies. This patent is broad and deep, and it involves taking olefin monomers and forming different structures. It is much different from single-site metallocene catalysts,'' he said.
He said the catalyst discovery arose from DuPont's investigations into group transfer polymerization, and that the breakthrough was achieved in col-laboration with scientists at the University of North Carolina. DuPont is based in Wilmington, Del.
However, Miller declined to provide further details on the catalyst system.
He said the firm will provide more details in the next year, and he believes the catalyst system could be commercialized within six years.
The announcement took executives of other polyolefin compa-nies by surprise.
However, Ed Gambrell, global vice president for Dow Chemical Co.'s Insite Technology, said his company was given a courteous, prior notice of the announcement because of its involvement in DuPont Dow Elastomers, the companies' joint venture that will use Dow's Insite metallocene technology to produce and market thermoplastic elastomers.
Gambrell said he welcomes DuPont's announcement as a sign of vitality for polyolefins, and as a sign that competition in the markets for polyolefins will continue to be brisk.