Chevron Chemical Co. LLC of Houston is venturing into the enhanced polyethylene market by licensing Energx-brand technology from Eastman Chemical Co.
Eastman, based in Kingsport, Tenn., introduced Energx in 1997 and has used it to produce Hifor-brand linear low density PE and Mxsten-brand plastomers at its Longview, Texas, facility. Hifor LLDPE demand prompted Eastman to add 80 million pounds of capacity at the site last year. Mxsten plastomer production is not included in the deal.
The technology can be used in gas-phase LLDPE facilities to produce high-performance LLDPE and high density PE. Chevron plans to use the technology at its Baytown, Texas, plant.
Chevron is the first official licensee of Eastman's Energx line, but Eastman's Jim Caldwell said his firm hopes to announce a second licensee by the end of the year.
Caldwell described LLDPE made with Energx as a ``super-strength, hexene-based'' material that can compete with metallocene-enhanced PEs produced by Dow Chemical Co. and Exxon Chemical Co.
``Metallocenes tend to be excellent in specific properties but deficient in others,'' said Caldwell, marketing director for Eastman's global technology ventures. ``Our technology offers more balance. it can give better dart strength but also better tear strength.''
PE made through Energx is aimed at packaging snacks, frozen foods, produce, baked goods, meats and cheese, as well as high-strength industrial applications.
Eastman selected Chevron from several global candidates because Chevron's strategy matched up well with Eastman's technology offering, Caldwell said.
Caldwell added that the recent trough in PE pricing — which remains below early-1998 levels in spite of recent upswings — may lead processors to try new materials such as enhanced PEs.
``In a down cycle, prices of all grades get compressed, so if a processor wants to experiment, there may be less of a penalty than when prices are high,'' he said.
Chevron ranks third in North American LDPE production (9.7 percent of the market), sixth in HDPE (7.5 percent) and eighth in LLDPE (3.3 percent). Eastman ranks fifth in North American LDPE (6.8 percent) and 10th in LLDPE (2.8 percent).