Nova Chemicals Ltd. is starting to line up processor trials for its recently announced advanced Sclairtech polyethylenes. It produces the resins at a semicommercial plant in Sarnia, Ontario. A Dow Chemical Co. official said Nova's new process is good news for the PE industry because ``all the investment in new technology will put another growth hump on PE.'' Ed Gambrell, global vice president for Dow's Insite metallocene technology, said he was not surprised by Nova's news and he expects other new PE processes will appear.
Nova initially will focus on high-value PE markets such as food packaging, thin-wall injection molding and coatings, said Paul D. Clark, Nova Chemicals' vice president of technology. In the future it might develop resins such as plastomers under 0.905 density, where metallocene resins now have property advantages over advanced Sclairtech.
The Calgary, Alberta, resin producer said Dec. 5 that its new PEs exceed metallocenes in slow puncture, tear strength and optical properties, and match them in heat-seal initiation. Better pro-cessability than metallocenes means lower costs because pro-cessors can avoid equipment retrofits and processing aids and run their extrusion lines at higher speeds, the firm said.
Advanced Sclairtech resins will carry a price premium over conventional PE but will be competitive vs. metallocenes, Clark predicted. Gambrell said he would be surprised if advanced Sclairtech's two-reactor process can economically make high-volume PE resins, but ``there is no question they will be able to make good products.''
Nova Chemicals expects to build a world-scale advanced Sclairtech plant at Joffre, Alberta, by 2000. It is expanding its ethylene production complex there.
Clark said the new resins' properties rely on control of molecular weight distribution and comonomer placement in the polymer. The control comes from high-intensity mixing technology, new Ziegler-Natta catalysts, and the use of two polymerization reactors. Nova researchers have made octene copolymers but other comonomers can be used.
Advanced Sclairtech is a solution-based process but Clark declined to compare technical details with Nova's conventional Sclairtech or Dow's solution-based PE process. Nova is seeking patents on its technology.
Gambrell said he thinks Dow's solution process could make PEs similar to advanced Sclairtech.
Nova will offer advanced Sclairtech for licensing. Capital costs for the new technology are lower than for conventional Sclairtech and are in the ballpark for a comparable gas-phase PE plant, Clark said.
Nova acquired Sclairtech, from DuPont Canada Inc. a few years ago and then built its C$25 million (US$18.5 million) semicommercial development plant to ``take the technology another step,'' Clark said.
Advanced Sclairtech also can use metallocene and advanced catalysts, Clark said. Nova is interested in a partnership with a metallocene resin producer but he would not offer details. Nova will use its new technology to enhance its conventional Sclair-tech production plant in Sarnia but full advantage of the process requires a new facility.