FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. - Since the new ICI Chemicals and Polymers Co. PET plant in Fayetteville has been in production only about a month, it isn't ``broke,'' but already, operations manager Craig Leite is trying to ``fix'' it. ``Our capacity is stated at 220 million pounds per year,'' Leite said at the plant recently. ``But we're trying to boost it up to 330 million.''
Even at the lower figure, ICI claims the plant, which began operating March 15, is the largest single-stream PET plant in the world, with 2,600 tons of steel and 3,600 instruments on a 6-acre site. It is also the first to receive ISO 9002 certification, he said.
Leite said the plant can run at maximum output with minimum personnel.
The plant's output is dedicated to the company's Melinar Laser+ PET resin, for use exclusively in PET bottles for carbonated beverages. The facility is a companion to the adjacent, older plant that makes ICI's Luminar PET resins for numerous uses, including a range of custom containers.
The two PET plants are the only ICI facilities in the United States making resin for rigid containers.
The new plant uses DuPont/ Chemtrex technology, and its own proprietary process for continuous polymerization. Leite said the continuous process has advantages over traditional batch mixing, including dust reduction and improved consistency. Dust can be a large problem when the resin crystallizes.
``The terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol components for PET are stored in separate feeder silos, and then mixed together in a slurry process in which they are esterified and enhanced with additives and catalysts before being heated,'' Leite said.
``The product is solid-stated to put it in the most crystaline form, and we reduce the dust production to about 0.001 percent.''
The forming polymer is left in the reactor for about 20 hours. Then imperfect chips are re-moved before the polymer is put through the Buhler solid-state polymerization technology. The exact recipe for Melinar Laser+ is proprietary, Leite said.
``With the growth of the PET demand in the last couple of years, we are convinced that this sort of capacity will be needed to meet that demand,'' he said.
The demand for polyester containers also has led ICI to investigate other related materials that could put it on the cutting edge of new container production.
Nipun Shah, manager of quality, new products and regulatory affairs for the Fayetteville site, said one of the 18 lines at the older custom PET batch plant is running polyethylene naphthalate exclusively. PEN is a relative to PET, with higher heat tolerance and better barrier qualities. PEN also is hot-fillable.
Until recently very little PEN has been produced, because naphthalene dicarboxylate, the major ingredient in PEN, was not widely available. Amoco Chem-ical Co. began commercial-quantity production of NDC last year, and is the only producer in North America.
Because of the short supply of NDC, PEN can be expensive in packaging applications, which has so far hindered its wide use, but many package makers are investigating its potential uses.
ICI Polyester, based in Wilming-ton, Del., is a business unit of Imperial Chemical Industries plc of London. The polyester unit also produces pure terephthalic acid, paraxylene, and Melinex films.
In addition to Fayetteville, ICI makes PET for rigid containers in Wilton, England, and Rozenburg, the Netherlands, and a range of polyester films at Fayetteville and Hopewell, Va.