NEW YORK — Phillips Chemical Co. has tossed its hat into the market for linear low density polyethylene resins based on metallocene catalyst technologies.
Phillips long has been the leading producer of high density polyethylene in North America, but has had a minor role in the production of LLDPE.
Although it boasts a long list of ``firsts'' in research and the development of thermoplastic resins — including the discovery of HDPE in 1951 — Phillips has not been overtly active, until now, in the development of metallocene catalyst technology.
Don Brady, polyethylene manager for Phillips, and Jack Howe, senior vice president of natural gas liquids, chemicals and plastics, said they believe the proprietary metallocene technology Phillips has developed is distinct from developments at other companies, and is well-protected by 54 patents.
Brady said Phillips is the third leading holder of patents for metallocene catalyst technology in the United States, behind Exxon Chemical Co. and Dow Chemical Co.
Phillips made initial commercial runs of resins with its technology in December, and expects to have capacity to make 200 million pounds of metallocene-based LLDPE by 2000, Brady said March 5 at a news conference in New York.
Further, he said Phillips expects to have capacity to produce 1.75 billion pounds of mLLDPE by 2005.
While initial production will be done at Phillips' Houston Chemical Complex, the Bartlesville, Okla.-based company expects to build a dedicated production facility on the Gulf Coast, Brady said.
While a decision has not been made, Brady said that the dedicated production facility likely will be at the Houston complex.
Phillips developed its unique metallocene catalyst technology to complement its loop slurry PE production technology. Phillips licenses its loop slurry technology worldwide.
Metallocene catalyst technology gives Phillips' production technology the ability to produce a wider range of PE resins, Brady said.
``Originally, we could produce PE resins with a 0.930 to 0.970 density range.
``Currently, we are able to produce resins with a 0.920 to 0.970 density range, and we expect to produce resins with a 0.910 to 0.970 density range in the future,'' he said.
Howe noted that HDPE historically was the leading species of PE demanded by the market, but that LLDPE caught up and remains the fastest growing resin.
``We have long had the desire to move downward in density, and this technology gives us the ability to do so,'' Howe said.
Both Brady and Howe said Phillips' mLLDPE resins provide increased clarity and toughness and higher strength than conventional LLDPE. Exxon and Dow have made similar claims, and Brady said Phillips' provides another new, competitive source for the materials.
Brady cited several critical issues that continue to plague the widespread use of mLLDPE resins, including the high costs of producing metallocene catalysts, the relatively low productivity rates and the low availability of the catalysts and the resins' increased difficulty of processing.
Further, he said it appears that mLLDPE producers have committed to production capacities that will cause an oversupply before demand for the resins develops, and that may lead producers to cannibalize markets for low density PE and conventional LLDPE.
Because of the high costs of the catalysts and the costs of development, mLLDPE resins are priced 4 to 6 cents higher than conventional high-alpha olefin LLDPE resins.
However, producers say they expect mLLDPE prices to soften as production capacities increase.