CHICAGO — Dow Chemical Co. is aiming to make sure the metallocene revolution proceeds as planned by bringing at least 1.5 billion pounds of new polyethylene capacity on line by 2000. Dow's Insite-brand metallocene catalyst technology will be used extensively with this new capacity to make the company's Elite-brand metallocene PE, Romeo Kreinberg, PE vice president, said in a June 18 interview at NPE 1997 in Chicago.
``The metallocene venture is growing very fast,'' Kreinberg said.
``The people that don't have metallocenes have to be skeptical, but if you have it, you have to be aggressive.''
That aggression will lead to new metallocene-ready PE lines in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta; as well as sites in Thailand and Argentina in the aforementioned time span.
Dow Plastics (Booth N4816) currently produces almost 882 million pounds of metallocene-based PE at plants in Tarragona, Spain; Freeport, Texas; and Plaquemine, La.
``The combination of metallocenes and process technology will drive us into the next century,'' said Kreinberg, whose division is spotlighting Elite at NPE. ``In most applications in the PE field, like stretch films, liners and pipes, metallocenes have outperformed other products in the market.''
Dow also is working with British Petroleum to develop metallocene technology. That agreement was followed recently by a similar effort between Exxon Chemical Co. and Union Carbide Corp.
But Kreinberg said people who are questioning the commercialization of metallocene-based resin — which still sells at prices at least 2-5 cents higher per pound than premium resin — are missing the point.
``Metallocenes aren't going to displace other polyethylenes,'' Kreinberg said. ``They're going to find their own niche in the market where they perform better for the same price.
``You don't need to create an extreme and say a new product is going to trash everyone in the market.''
Overall, the PE market — and Dow's 7.8 billion-pound annual share — is still in a 31/2-year period of very solid development, Kreinberg said.
Prices have continued to climb because high demand has prevented processors from building up stock, he said.
Kreinberg cited the market's rapid recovery from a 1995 downturn, which he called ``a blip,'' as a sign of its continued health.
Elsewhere in Dow-land, the polypropylene and polystyrene divisions aren't taking the PE plans lying down.
The fledgling PP business, launched last year with PP resin supplied by Montell Polyolefins, will open its first production facility in Schkopau, Germany, early next year, according to Dow's PP senior marketing manager, Kyle Lorton.
``Dow's other resin customers have already expressed their interest in buying polypropylene from us as well,'' Lorton said.
The Schkopau line will have an annual capacity of 528 million pounds.
An identical line will begin production in Tarragona, Spain, in early 2000.
The company has delayed the announcement of the location of a third PP line in North America, but Lorton said the choices have been narrowed down to Plaquemine, La., or Freeport, Texas.
Sarnia, Ontario, has been removed from consideration, Lorton said.
Lorton disagreed with published reports that said Montell's PP supply agreement was negotiated in exchange for access to Dow's Insite metallocene technology.
According to Lorton, those two deals were struck independently of each other and were not connected.
PS commercial director Robert Beil said his division is looking at expanding into Eastern Europe, with an announcement possible by the end of the year.
Dow remains the global leader in PS with a 16 percent market share, according to Beil. That number climbs to 21 percent in the North American market.
Beil explained that even though the 16 percent share ``doesn't sound like much,'' it's 11/2 times larger than Dow's nearest competitor in a field with more than 100 players.
Beil said Dow and other PS makers are adjusting to a downward PS pricing spiral resulting from added capacity from four major players in a two-year period.
``Instead of the price coming down on a regular basis, it hit the skids pretty hard,'' Beil said. ``The polymer price was leading the monomer cost instead of the other way around.''