MARL, GERMANY (May 30, 2:55 p.m. ET) — Evonik Industries AG estimates that the fatal explosion March 31 at its plant in Marl, Germany, has removed about 40 percent of the world's 220 million pounds of annual nylon 12 capacity.
The plant, which makes nylon 12 precursor cyclododecatriene, is not expected to reopen until the final quarter of the year, Evonik said. The company — the world's largest nylon 12 supplier — uses CDT in its Vestamid L line of nylon 12 compounds.
Nylon 12 is a high-performance and high-cost material used in demanding applications such as automotive fuel lines and braking systems. It is too early to forecast exactly what impact the supply shortage will have on nylon 12 prices during the rest of the year, but strong upward pressure seems inevitable. Nylon 12, without specifications, is currently priced at 10-12 euros/kilogram, while specified grades are usually priced over 15 euros/kg.
Nylon 12 is the sole-specified material for automotive fuel lines due to its unique combination of thermal, physical, chemical and mechanical properties. Since the incident, the world's automotive suppliers have been desperately exploring what alternative material options are available
For example, TI Automotive, which supplies fuel lines for all the world's leading automotive manufacturers, warned in a letter to customers that the Evonik explosion had led to a “severe” shortage of nylon 12. These shortages have the potential to slow or even stop production lines in auto factories around the world.
One option available to auto suppliers could be a switch to other high-performance nylon products such as nylon 6/10, 6/12, 10/10, 10/12 and 11. According to Evonik, these are particularly suitable for use in line systems in the automotive supply industry, including the multilayer tubing systems patented by Evonik. These materials will, however, only be available in small volumes while the plant is being repaired.
Arkema, Ube Industries and EMS-Grivory are also leading suppliers of nylon 12 and other high-performance nylon 12 compounds. These suppliers may not, however, be able to fully cover the nylon 12 shortfall. They were already running their facilities at full capacity prior to the explosion and product is fully committed to existing customers.
Global CDT and nylon 12 supply was extremely tight before the Marl incident as a result of growing demand from the burgeoning photovoltaics market. Availability of nylon 12 from other suppliers may also be affected, directly or indirectly, by more limited supply of CDT from Marl, as well as from increased demand from Evonik's customers.
Solvay Specialty Polymers, meanwhile, stepped in to fill the breach by offering its automotive customers alternative resins to replace nylon 12. The company said its Amodel polyphthalamide and Ifex polyacrylamide materials are both suitable for use in fuel line and glycol connectors.
DSM is also recommending use of its Arnitel and EcoPaxx products as an alternative to nylon 12. DSM claims that Arnitel thermoplastic copolyester offers a proven, viable solution for tubes and hoses, with a performance that is actually superior.
EcoPaxx nylon 410 is a partly renewable nylon 12 that combines excellent mechanical properties, a high melting point of 482° F, very low moisture absorption and excellent chemical and hydrolysis resistance, according to the company. That makes EcoPaxx highly suitable for connectors and fuel lines.
Three Chinese manufacturers from Shandong province are now offering nylon 12-type products in Europe through ClickPlastics, a specialist distributor of Asian material. However, according to the distributor, volumes supplied by the Chinese companies is unlikely to exceed 8.8 million pounds annually, which is nowhere near sufficient to meeting the shortfall.
ClickPlastics told European Plastics News that material testing is currently under way and it is hopeful of receiving the required approval within the next few months. Normally, it can take more than six months to test and gain approval for new materials in demanding automotive applications. In North America, the Automotive Industry Action Group is working with automakers and suppliers to streamline the approval process for alternative resins, which should speed development of new parts in the product pipeline.