MIDLAND, MICH. — Dow Chemical Co. has launched construction of a polypropylene pilot plant and technology center at the firm's manufacturing facility in Freeport, Texas.
The project, the first North American step of the Midland-based firm's new PP venture, will be up and running by the second half of 1998, according to PP product marketing manager Kyle Lorton.
``The facility will be large enough for us to build and develop technology,'' Lorton said in an Oct. 27 interview in Midland. ``We'll be able to test things out.''
Lorton added that Dow scientists will work to develop the firm's own technology. Some of the projects include PP grades with improved stiffness and impact resistance and metallocene applications.
But Lorton denied that placing the plant in Freeport gave that site the edge over Plaquemine, La., in the site-selection process for the firm's first commercial-scale North American PP plant, which is scheduled to open in 1999. The company is expected to choose between those two locations by the end of the year.
``This doesn't rule Plaquemine out,'' Lorton said. ``With today's transportation ability and logistics, having facilities at two different sites really isn't a big deal.''
Dow announced last year it would enter the PP market. Since then, the company has been marketing PP resin supplied by industry leader Montell Polyolefins, a Dutch firm with North American headquarters in Wilmington, Del.
Dow's first PP site, with a capacity of about 450 million pounds, is set to open early next year in Schkopau, Germany. A similar plant is planned for a 2000 opening in Tarragona, Spain, while a second commercial-scale North American plant should be in place by 2003.
Lorton also addressed larger topics surrounding Dow's PP entry and its stated goal of being the second- or third-largest PP player in the world by 2005.
A recent shakeup at Montell, in which Royal Dutch/Shell bought out Montedison's 50 percent share of the company to assume sole ownership, has revived rumors of a possible merger or joint venture between the two companies.
``We're looking very hard at how we can grow faster and bring differentiated products to the marketplace faster, and an obvious way to do that is through buying [existing facilities] or going into a joint venture,'' Lorton said. ``That's a strategy we're evaluating right now. It's as much a part of our strategy as building plants.''
Dow also is encouraged by continuing growth rates in PP. Through July, North American PP sales and captive use were up 6 percent over 1996, while production was up 12.9 percent in that same period, according to the Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. More than 3.5 billion pounds of new capacity is slated for North America by the end of 1999.