AKRON, OHIO — Vinyl industry officials are used to taking the good with the bad, but Robert Wilson Jr.'s prediction that between a third and half of the flexible PVC market could be replaced by metallocene-based polyolefin resins still caused a stir at the World Vinyl Forum.
Wilson, an analyst with SRI International of Menlo Park, Calif., said better processability and clarity will allow metallocenes to compete with flexible PVC in such areas as calendered flooring, cast plastomer film for shower curtains and synthetic leather for auto dashboards.
Wilson added that an early metallocene application competed with PVC in medical tubing.
``PVC has enjoyed quite a nice period of reasonable growth because of its unique price/performance,'' he said. ``But metallocenes are the first material that might be able to compete with PVC on a price/performance basis.''
Wilson based his cost comparison on recent metallocene patents, filed by Dow Chemical Co. and Hoechst Celanese Corp., claiming production rates that would produce metallocene products at costs comparable to conventional polyethylene and polypropylene.
The continued growth of flexible PVC, which makes up 15 percent of the overall PVC market, Wilson said, could be threatened by metallocenes' progress.
The PVC industry could counteract this threat by investing in research into metallocenes or other new polymerization techniques such as living radical polymerization, he added.
Some industry officials in attendance did not agree with Wilson's projection, which made metallocenes appear to be a dark cloud hanging over flexible PVC.
But Robert Brookman, president of Colorite Polymers of Ridgefield, N.J., pointed out the difficulty of adapting metallocenes for some applications, such as medical devices.
``You can't seal shower curtains with metallocenes,'' he said. ``[Wilson] is not an expert on the practical side; he's on the academic side.''
Steve Bayless, president of Houston-based Westlake PVC Corp. also said Wilson's 50 percent replacement numbers were high. Bayless said a similar Westlake study found metallocenes might take only 10 percent of the flexible PVC market.
``Those were the highest numbers I've seen,'' Bayless said. ``A lot of it is projection, but metallocenes haven't had that many successes yet.''
``The threat is there, and there will be some substitution. But you have to wonder if you can use the same kind of fabricating techniques and process on the same type of equipment,'' he said.