CHICAGO (June 30, 1:30 p.m. EDT) — BASF Corp. is wrapping up construction of a 100 million-pound-per-year styrenic block copolymer plant in Altamíra, Mexico, and is introducing a number of new styrenic-based and biodegradable polymers.
The plant will be BASF's first North American production site for its Styrolux SBC. Previously, it had imported material into North America from its European operations.
“We've seen a lot of growth in packaging and transparent materials,” said Jay Kline, styrenics group vice president. “The design features [of Styrolux] are attractive and it can really enhance clarity.”
Other areas of BASF's styrenics business are more challenging right now. Kline conceded that ABS is “in a shrinking market” and pointed out that polystyrene profit margins “aren't at a point where you can even consider reinvesting.”
At its 280 million-pound-per-year styrenics plant in Altamíra, 85 percent of capacity currently goes toward ABS, with the remainder in acrylic styrene acrylonitrile. But Kline said that by 2005, ASA's share of the plant's output could grow to 30 percent as the ABS market recedes.
PS use in food packaging has remained strong, with a recent boost coming from the increased number of casual dining restaurants offering carry-out service, according to PS business director Kevin McQuade.
But as PS in North America grows in food service, it faces a different story in injection molded parts. “It seems like as soon as a new [injection molded] application happens, something else moves to Asia,” he said. “A molder can get a new computer job, and within six months, it's gone.”
McQuade added that he expects North American PS growth to be flat this year and to average 2.5 to 3 percent — roughly equal with gross domestic product expectations — in 2004-05.
BASF's integration of the engineered resins business it acquired in a swap with Honeywell Inc. last year also continues. The deal brought in Honeywell's nylon and PET resin production and sent BASF's fibers business to Honeywell.
Jay Baker, performance polymers group vice president, said the new units “fit right in with BASF's strategy.”
“Fibers was a very cyclical business and didn't fit into BASF's plans,” Baker said. “And 70 percent of our [nylon] business was in automotive, while 70 percent of Honeywell's [nylon] business was outside of automotive, so it was a good balance.”
At NPE, Mount Olive, N.J.-based BASF — which is a unit of BASF AG of Ludwigshafen, Germany — is highlighting new grades of high-flow, high-impact PS and Avantra superhigh-impact PS. It also is showcasing its Ecoflex-brand biodegradable polymer, which is an aliphatic-aromatic copolyester.
In another recent deal, BASF licensed Entec Engineering Resins of Maitland, Fla., to compound its ASA/polycarbonate copolymers. Entec already distributes BASF's SBC line in North America and manufactures pre-colored grades of BASF's SBCs.