BASF AG has exited the race to gain market share with polyetherketone resins, leaving one horse in a contest with a fat purse. BASF of Ludwigshafen, Germany, recently announced it would end its attempt to break into the market for polyketones, and would stop production and marketing of polyaryletherketone (PEKEKK) resins.
Victrex Ltd., with its polyetheretherketone resins, now claims to be the sole supplier of PEK resins in the world, and is expanding its production facilities by 50 percent.
Victrex of Lancashire, England, introduced PEEK resins commercially in 1981, when it was a unit of ICI Chemicals. The company was taken private in a management buyout in 1993.
Victrex, now with annual sales of $50 million, has offices in Frankfurt, Germany, and West Chester, Pa.
The firm went public in December, with a stock offering on the London Stock Exchange. It
does not sell shares or American Depositary Receipts in the United States.
As it went public, Victrex announced it would invest $9 million to increase its production capacity from 20 million pounds to 30 million pounds a year to meet growing demand.
While other firms - including BASF and Amoco Chemical Co. - have used pilot production plants to produce small quantities of polyketones, Dan Lazas, U.S. Commercial Director for Victrex, said his company has had the edge because it is a founder of the business and a primary developer of markets and applications for the polymers. Executives for BASF and Amoco could not be reached for comment.
``With only 20 million pounds of production, it is obvious that it's a small market, and we have been in a position so that it would be a long process for anyone to catch up to us,'' Lazas said in an interview by telephone Feb. 7.
While the market may be small, as the company's plans for expansion indicates, it is growing, he said.
Victrex is counting on new uses and applications for its PEEK resins in industrial, transportation, electronic and medical markets, he said.
With other polyketone makers out of the business, Lazas said his company's resins now compete primarily with polyimide and fluoropolymer resins, metals and ceramics.
However, he claimed, PEEK's performance characteristics, which include chemical and wear resistance, coupled with its ease of processing, give it a competitive edge even at its high cost: A 550-pound order of the company's basic, unfilled PEEK costs $35.20 a pound.
Plastics News began using prices for PEKEKK resins in its pricing chart in 1994 at the request of BASF. With its exit from the business, Plastics News has dropped the price listing for those resins. PEEK resin prices now reflect Victrex's list prices, and are provided as a service to readers.