Basell Polyolefins has had a busy year since being acquired by New York investment firm Access Industries Inc.
``I feel like a baseball player who realizes the foul lines and the outfield fence aren't where they used to be,'' Basell Polyolefins North America President Randy Woelfel said during a news conference at NPE in Chicago. ``We have the freedom to think outside the box that we didn't have in the past.''
Since Access bought Basell from BASF AG and Royal Dutch/Shell Group in May 2005, Basell has accomplished the following:
* Confirmed plans to add 770 million pounds of PP capacity in Tampico, Mexico, by 2008.
* Established a joint venture to build an ethylene and polyethylene complex in Saudi Arabia.
* Agreed to build a petrochemicals complex in Kazakhstan, where Access also owns that country's largest coal operation.
* Built PP and PE plants in Poland.
* Built a PP compounding plant in Brazil and announced plans to expand its PP compounding in China.
* Bought out its partner in a PP-making joint venture in Argentina.
* Added PP compounding capacity by debottlenecking a plant in Australia.
* Acquired a U.S. polymer catalyst business from Akzo Nobel.
But even though the global economy continues to be fairly positive, according to Basell President and Chief Executive Officer Volker Trautz, challenges remain.
``Polyolefin [business] cycles used to be measured in years, but now any year can have multiple cycles,'' he said.
Trautz estimates that by 2010, more than 20 billion pounds of polyolefins will be traded among the world's different regions every year, as demand and low-cost supply rebalance.
``Surplus [polyolefin] product with leading cash cost will be looking for a home,'' he said.
At NPE, Basell launched several new products, including PP grades that can withstand temperatures of minus 40° F. The material is expected to find a home in the frozen-food packaging market.
Other new Basell products for NPE were three grades of Metocene metallocene-based PP aimed at cast film and injection molding.
Basell ranks as the world's largest PP maker with almost 18 billion pounds of annual capacity. The firm also operates 5 billion pounds of PE capacity and posted annual sales of more than $10 billion in 2005, with about 20 percent of that amount coming from North America.