GARYVILLE, LA. — For polypropylene maker Epsilon Products Co., the future is rising from an old sugar-cane field in Garyville.
By October, Marcus Hook, Pa.-based Epsilon will launch two PP lines totaling 800 million pounds of capacity at an 86-acre site in Garyville. The first 400 million-pound line is set to start July 15; the second, Oct. 1.
The lines, using Union Carbide's Unipol technology, initially will produce homopolymer-grade PP. Later, the first line will produce random- and impact-copolymer PP, while the second line will add random-copolymer capability.
Eventually, most of the plant's output will be copolymer material, said plant manager Steve Irwin.
The new plant is next to a Marathon Oil refinery, which will provide Epsilon with propylene feedstock. Total cost of the new facility is expected to be about $135 million.
The plant will employ 104 and will double Epsilon's overall PP capacity to 1.6 billion pounds. Its other PP plant is in Marcus Hook.
Building in Garyville will let Epsilon target the U.S. fibers market, much of which is centered in the Southeast, Irwin said in an interview at Epsilon's Garyville plant.
The fibers and filaments market accounted for 26 percent of U.S. PP sales in 1998, a total of more than 3.6 billion pounds.
``This opens up the rest of the country for us,'' said Epsilon sales and marketing director Michael Pembroke. ``We weren't competitive with people who were shipping to the Southwest, the West Coast, Mexico and parts of the Midwest. Now we'll be closer to the fiber industry than some Gulf Coast producers are.''
Marathon is installing a new propylene splitter to transform its propylene from refinery-grade to polymer-grade material.
Epsilon also has installed a storage sphere that can hold 40,000 barrels of propylene - it's touted as the largest storage sphere in the country.
Marathon propylene project manager Paul Pacior said the Epsilon partnership was an opportunity for Mobil to upgrade its product.
Said Pembroke: ``We were looking for someone with trapped value in their monomer. We looked in the Midwest and Canada, but this location made the most sense because of its logistics.
``To compete with the big chemical companies, you need meaningful partners who can belly up to that part of the game,'' he added.
Epsilon and other PP makers are hoping a thriving PP sales market that, through April, was 12 percent ahead of its 1998 pace, will absorb new capacity being churned out by four expansions — between October 1998 and March 2000 — that will add more than 2 billion pounds of capacity to the North American market.
For now, it looks like the market should be able to absorb Epsilon's new capacity.
``We're screaming for it,'' Pembroke said. ``We wish it would have come on sooner. The numbers looked OK when we made the decision, but we didn't imagine how tight things would be right now.''