PET resin manufacturer Wellman Inc., which has not turned a profit since 2002, is banking on titanium as its PET catalyst and technology of the future and as a way to help turn around its financial performance.
At present, the plastics packaging market for carbonated soft drinks is dominated by antimony-based PET resins. But Jim Bruening, technical director of PET resins for the Shrewsbury, N.J., company, said Wellman expects that the industry ``will follow us'' and switch because the titanium-based PermaClearTi PET packaging resin it introduced Nov. 29 in Atlanta at the PET Strategies conference ``improves so many qualities.''
Wellman - the largest PET resin producer in the U.S with 1.5 billion pounds of capacity - has posted losses from 2003-05 and had a loss of $73.9 million in the first three quarters of 2006.
``We will use it as the cornerstone of our technology platform as we move forward,'' said Bruening. He said previous issues with yellowness and clarity have been resolved, solid-state polymerization rates ``now match and exceed antimony'' and titanium provides several other distinct advantages to bottlers such as ``improved injection molding speed and reduced acetaldehyde.''
Bruening said that in tests on a 32-cavity injection molding machine, cycle time was reduced by one second, or 5-10 percent, and that laboratory testing of samples indicated a 25-30 percent reduction in the amount of acetaldehyde. He also said that a slower crystallization rate with titanium resins will enable injection molders to operate at lower temperatures, reduce shrinkage and achieve faster cycle times.
Wellman has had, since the mid-1990s, a titanium-based PET resin, ThermaClear TI, for hot-fill packaging applications. Wellman said Thermaclear slows the rate of crystallization and enables the use of higher filling temperatures in the blow molding process, among other things, the firm said.
``With resin being the largest single cost for a bottle producer, this is a significant opportunity,'' said Bruening, who added that the clarity of titanium-based PET resins gives them an advantage in applications such as white grape juice.
The new resin will be made at its plants in Florence, S.C., and Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.
Titanium is the fourth-most-common element in the earth's crust.
China controls more than 90 percent of the supply of antimony and there is uncertainty whether that country's Nandam mine, which has been closed since 2001 and supplied 40 percent of the world supply of antimony, will reopen.