MIDLAND, MICH. — Dow Chemical Co. is narrowing its choices for the site of its first commercial production facility for syndiotactic polystyrene. Dow is planning to build a facility by early 1999 to produce 80 million pounds of SPS per year.
It is in the final stages of deciding where that facility will be, according to Ken Van Der Wende, global project director for SPS and advanced polycarbonate/ engineering thermoplastic resins for Dow. Van Der Wende spoke Nov. 12 in an interview at Dow's headquarters in Midland.
SPS is a new engineering thermoplastic produced with metallocene catalyst technology. It was developed by Dow and Idemitsu Petrochemical Ltd. of Tokyo.
Idemitsu recently started a market development facility to produce 11 million pounds of SPS per year.
Dow is not an equity owner in that facility, but jointly owns research and has an exclusive license for research done on SPS between 1985 and 1988, Van Der Wende said.
Dow expects SPS resins to compete with crystalline resins, such as nylons, thermoplastic polyesters, liquid crystal polymers, polyphenylene sulfides and polymer blends, Van Der Wende said.
He said SPS can be processed almost as easily as LCPs, and has been used in injection molding, spun-bond, and melt-blown processes. In melt-blown processing, the resins have been used in both woven and nonwoven products, he noted.
Van Der Wende said SPS resins have shown potential for applications such as electrical and electronic components, where they are expected to compete with thermoset resins because of their flame-retardant characteristics and rigidity; under-the-hood automotive components; and industrial filters — in fiber form.
Van Der Wende said that a study of the introductions of a number of engineering thermoplastic resins showed him that ETPs never achieved good market penetration until their prices were competitive.
In acknowledging that, he said prices for SPS resins will have to compete in a range of $1.80-$3.
Also, he said Dow does not view SPS as a commodity thermoplastic, but as a niche product.
Contrary to some published reports, Van Der Wende said he does not expect Dow and Idemitsu to share ownership of the commercial facilities for SPS, although he said the companies could have a coproducer/supply relationship in the future.
Van Der Wende said Dow and Idemitsu's existing relationship was limited to research, and the companies have no plans to jointly market SPS.
``The research we performed was designed to answer the question: Can we make a product that meets the needs of the marketplace at the right economics?
``Obviously, the answer to that was: `Yes, we can develop a commercial product.' Now we are going to do that,'' Van Der Wende said.
``Many years ago, we decided that if we could develop this product, Dow would have exclusive rights to it in North America while Idemitsu would have exclusive rights in Asia, and that we would share equal rights in Europe,'' he added.