Seeking to meet growing demand, both of the world's suppliers of gas-barrier ethylene vinyl alcohol copolymer resins will expand production next year.
Beginning in early 1999, Noltex LLC plans to ramp up a second retrofitted EVOH line in La Porte, Texas. Noltex will double annual production capacity to 35.2 million pounds, Robert Rose, Noltex operations director, said by telephone.
Eval Europe NV anticipates a mid-1999 start-up for an Antwerp, Belgium, plant now under construction. The project will add 22 million pounds at Europe's first complete EVOH plant and the only one on the continent since a Solvay SA unit's pilot facility in Italy closed in 1991.
Competing suppliers sell an industry-estimated $275 million of EVOH annually for fabrication into rigid and flexible gas-barrier packaging, primarily for food products. EVOH also is used for medical, pharmaceutical, cosmetic, agricultural and industrial applications — including automotive fuel tanks.
The expansions could boost EVOH sales toward $400 million in 2000.
Eval Co. of America, a sister of the European unit, operates a 46 million-pound plant on a 40-acre site in Pasadena, Texas. Their parent, Kuraray Co. Ltd., has an EVOH capacity of 23 million pounds in Okayama, Japan.
Both existing sites serve Europe now and will have more capability to supply respective regional markets once the Belgium plant goes on line.
``Strong growth in Europe warranted the capital investment,'' said Frank Kitchel, Evalca director of marketing in Lisle, Ill.
Units of two Japanese chemical firms control limited liability company Noltex. Nippon Gohsei Co. Ltd. owns 75 percent, and Mitsubishi Chemical Corp., 25 percent.
Nippon Gohsei has a 22 million-pound EVOH capacity plant in Kurashiki, Japan.
Noltex evolved from a two-line operation that DuPont established in 1989 and abandoned in 1993. DuPont's shutdown of the EVOH plant, then the world's largest, caused an immediate shortage.
Neither Kuraray nor Nippon Gohsei was positioned to take immediate advantage.
However, in 1994 Nippon Gohsei acquired the DuPont equipment and 14 acres in La Porte and began retrofitting with its own proprietary technology. One 17.6 million-pound line was started in February 1996 and reached full capacity in mid-1997, according to Rose.
Noltex anticipates a 1998 increase of ``more than 30 percent in sales over last year,'' said Noboru Utaka, Noltex executive vice president.
Nippon Gohsei began retrofitting the second 17.6 million-pound line in 1996 and expects completion by year's end. The plant employs 100.
Some EVOH capacity will fulfill higher requirements for plastic automotive fuel tanks. Coextruded six-layer tanks have outside skins of high density polyethylene, inside layers of EVOH and reground HDPE and two adhesive layers adjoining the EVOH.