BOSTON — A new plastics technology firm claims its patented liquid monomer materials can push metallocene-based plastics into the construction market, taking 10 percent of PVC's overall business by 2010.
``We're not going after PVC from the environmental aspect,'' said David Highfield, president and chief executive officer of Charlotte, N.C.-based Chemecol. ``But metallocenes are no longer a novelty. For the first time in many years, they're putting PVC under pressure from the cost-performance side.''
Chemecol's technology creates a liquid monomer that functions as a plasticizer for metallocene-based polyethylene and polypropylene. The plasticizing effect allows metallocene PE and PP to be processed on the same equipment that processes PVC.
The resulting metallocenes can be used in wall covering, roofing, siding, ceiling tiles and geomembranes. The products differ from PVC in that they have less toxicity when destroyed, have increased flexibility and prevent migration of chemicals because of superior bonding, Highfield said.
Highfield, who also has worked for Exxon Corp. and Armstrong World Industries Inc., developed the liquid monomer in 1992 while designing a halogen-free flooring for Forbo International of Kirkcaldy, Scotland.
He spoke of Chemecol's potential at an alternative-building-materials seminar hosted by the University of Massachusetts-Lowell Nov. 10 in Boston.
``When I first came up with the idea, I asked U.S. academia if it was feasible,'' Highfield said. ``They not only said it was feasible, they said, `Can we join you?'''
After arranging to license the technology through Forbo, Highfield founded Chemecol in March. Chemecol since has joined an alliance with Rapra Technology Ltd. of Shropshire, England. The combined staff of Chemecol and Rapra numbers 160.
Projects under way include efforts to develop a vinyl-free wallcovering for two firms, one in the United States and one in the United Kingdom. The U.S. firm also has hired Chemecol to produce prototypes for commercial ceiling tiles.
Additionally, Chemecol is negotiating with two U.S.-based firms—a medical supplies manufacturer and a vinyl-siding maker—to make prototypes for those markets.
Andrew Loss, the company's vice president of strategic development, declined to identify any of the companies involved.
Typically, Chemecol will provide a plastics processor with pelletized metallocene resin that has been treated with a formulation of its liquid monomer to match the processor's needs. After testing, Chemecol will provide the processor with the formulation, according to Loss.
Chemecol only markets its technology and does not produce commercial quantities of liquid monomer or metallocene resins.
Highfield said he is confident metallocene materials will move into large-volume, commodity applications, partially because of the massive research investments that have been made to date.
``Exxon spent $3 billion developing metallocenes and there's no way they're going to recoup that investment with medical devices and specialty products,'' Highfield said.