Plastics News staff reporter Frank Esposito wrote the following briefs from the Chemical Market Associates Inc. 2002 World Petrochemical Conference and DeWitt World Petrochemical Review 2002, both held March 20-21 in Houston.
PE pipe looks strong, conduit oversupplied
The high density polyethylene pipe market is expected to rebound in 2002, thanks in part to an expected surge in natural gas distribution.
But the conduit market should remain depressed as telecommunications firms pay the price of overinvesting in unneeded capacity, according to Thomas Walsh, president of Houston-based consulting firm Walsh Consulting Services.
Walsh said natural gas usage is expected to increase by 50 percent in the next decade, creating a massive opportunity for PE pipe, which is used in 99 percent of plastic applications for that market.
Meanwhile, empty conduit lines are in place across the country, as growth expected by fiber optics investors such as Enron Corp., Global Crossing Holdings Ltd. and Level 3 Communications never materialized. PE pipe demand in the conduit market dropped more than 40 percent in 2001 as a result.
``There was tremendous overbuilding and then the dot-com bubble popped,'' Walsh said.
Another growth opportunity for plastic pipe will be in replacing aging lines for water, sewer and gas in hundreds of cities.
``In Houston alone, there's $3 billion of [infrastructure] work to be done in the next 10 years,'' Walsh said.
``And Houston isn't dissimilar to other parts of the U.S.''
Production growing for specialty PE, PP
Global capacity for specialty polyethylene based on single-site catalysts is expected to top 22 billion pounds annually by 2006, more than tripling its 2001 total.
By comparison, production of single-site-based polypropylene will quadruple, but volume will lag far behind, barely reaching about 1.9 billion pounds a year by 2006. 2001 production of the material is estimated at about 475 million pounds, according to Ken Sinclair, principal of STA Research Inc. in Snohomish, Wash.
Sinclair added that new polymer development technology is having a major impact on the industry, reducing the time it takes to develop new applications from almost five years to seven months, while increasing the success rates of such projects from 30 percent to 90 percent.