In moves expected to boost the development and uses of new polyethylene resins worldwide, the two leading companies in metallocene catalyst technologies last week announced separate, sweeping ventures with the two leading PE production licensers. Dow Chemical Co. of Midland, Mich., announced Aug. 5 a joint venture with British Petroleum plc's chemical division of London.
The venture will develop and license Dow's metallocene catalyst technologies in connection with BP's Innovene gas-phase PE production process.
Exxon Chemical Co. of Houston announced Aug. 8 a joint venture with Union Carbide Corp. of Danbury, Conn.
It will develop and license Exxon's metallocene technologies with Union Carbide's Unipol gas-phase process.
Worldwide, 7.7 billion pounds of PE is made each year through the BP process, and 26 billion pounds through the Unipol process. The two processes account for nearly 40 percent of the 85 billion pounds of PE made worldwide each year. Observ-ers said they expect the Dow/ BP and Exxon/ Union Carbide marriages to promote the uses of metallocene catalysts, while giving Dow and Exxon access to profitable licensing arrangements. Further, Exxon and Union Carbide apparently have more to gain because of the developments of supercondensing-mode technology at Exxon.
All four companies were careful to emphasize that they will continue to develop, make and market PE resins independently, and that their ventures are involved in specific - but broad - areas of technology that relate to the production of PE resins and metallocene catalysts.
Both ventures will provide metallocene technologies to other PE suppliers, which are expected to develop and produce new PE resins using those technologies.
The Dow/BP venture appears to be in earlier stages than the Exxon/Union Carbide venture.
In an Aug. 7 telephone interview, Ed Gambrell, global vice president for Dow's Insite technology, said Dow and BP are considering options for the structure of their joint venture, and have not completed the details.
Gambrell said the Dow/BP venture is certain to involve licensing metallocene technology for gas-phase PE reactors that produce PE resins with densities greater than 0.915 grams per cubic centimeter.
In effect, that includes all low, linear low and high density PE resins made in gas-phase reactors, while it excludes very low density PE and elastomers.
Also, Gambrell noted that Dow's arrangement with BP excludes solution-process PE, Dow's mainstay. Gambrell expects the Dow/BP venture to be established by the end of this year, and to begin licensing its technologies early in 1997.
PaineWebber Inc. chemical industry analyst Paul Raman estimates the Dow/BP venture could produce pretax profit of $385 million a year, which would be split between the companies.
Exxon and Union Carbide have named Roger B. Staub, corporate vice president and general manager of Unipol Systems for Carbide, chairman of their joint venture.
Staub will have Gregory L. McPike, vice president of Exxon's Exxpol Venture, as president and chief executive officer of the new venture, and William A. Fraser, director of research and development for Union Carbide's Polymer Group, as executive vice president for research.
The Exxon/Union Carbide venture will involve technologies for both gas-phase and slurry production of new and existing PE production facilities, Staub said at an Aug. 8 news conference.
Exxon's supercondensed-mode technology is a patented process enhancement that allows PE producers to multiply the output of existing reactors by as much as four or five times with relatively small investments in new equipment.
The Exxon/Union Carbide venture will include new Unipol licenses, Staub said. Current Uni-pol licensees will continue to pay royalty fees to Union Carbide, he noted.
Besides the metallocene and supercondensing-mode technologies, Exxon will contribute a metallocene catalyst production facility that is nearing completion at Exxon's Mount Belvieu, Texas, production complex, McPike said at the news conference.
When completed, that plant will have the capability to make catalysts to fuel the production of 3 billion pounds of PE a year, McPike said, adding that the facility was designed to be expanded readily.
``Ongoing catalyst research will be done jointly. We'll do research at our existing locations, but that research will be done cooperatively,'' McPike said.
The Exxon/Union Carbide venture will address the production of LLDPE and HDPE, and will not affect very low density products, such as Union Carbide's flexomer and Exxon's plastomer products, McPike said.
Separate ventures between Exxon and DSM NV of Heerlen, the Netherlands; Exxon and Mitsui Petrochemicals Ltd. of Tokyo; and Exxon and Hoechst AG of Frankfurt, Germany, will not be affected by Exxon's venture with Union Carbide, he said.
Also, the Exxon/Union Carbide venture will not address polypro-pylene processes or catalysts, McPike said.
Raman estimated that the Exxon/Union Carbide venture will produce pretax profit of $180 million - lower than the Dow/BP venture because Raman expects the Dow/BP venture to produce higher-value-added products.
The Exxon/Carbide deal resolves current and potential legal disputes between the companies over metallocene catalyst technologies and supercondensing-mode technology.
Currently, Carbide and BP are facing each other in court battles in the United Kingdom and France over condensing-mode technologies, and Exxon and Dow are involved in a court battle over a specific area of metallocene catalyst technology.