After a brief delay, the Braskem Idesa joint venture is launching production of polyethylene at its new complex near Coatzacolacos, Mexico.
“Our contractors and commissioning team have been working around the clock in order to speed up some critical activities in order to have a safe and uneventful start-up in February and March,” business development director Cleantho Leite Filho said in a recent email to Plastics News.
“The ethane cracker is planned to begin operating in late or mid-February, while the PE plants will follow several weeks after,” he added.
Once ethylene production starts and the product is specified, Braskem Idesa will feed the material into its high and low density PE plants, Leite Filho explained. As a result, resins should be available to processors in late March or April.
The project — known as Ethylene XXI — will have annual capacities of more than 2 billion pounds of both PE and ethylene feedstock. PE capacity will be split between two polymerization units with almost 1.7 billion pounds of annual HDPE output and a third polymerization unit with almost 700 million pounds of annual LDPE output.
The PE capacity will be the first new addition to the North American PE market since the early 2000s. Braskem Idesa is a JV between Brazilian petrochemicals leader Braskem SA (75 percent) and Mexican petchem firm Grupo Idesa (25 percent).
Construction at the site employed 17,000 at its peak. The site will have 500 permanent employees. Leite Filho said in late 2015 that the project has faced numerous challenges, including relocating indigenous plants and animals such as snakes and turtles.
In an email, Leite Filho said that Braskem Idesa's own internal estimate of Mexican PE demand during 2015 was around 4.5 billion pounds. Preliminary analysis showed a 2015 growth rate of 7.1 percent, while estimates for 2016 are above 3.5 percent. PE markets showing the most growth in Mexico are blow molded packaging and film and sheet products that use LDPE and linear LDPE.
Leite Filho added that Braskem Idesa's current commercial strategy still projects 40 percent export volume from the site in 2016, with approximately 25 percent of that volume being shipped to the U.S.
“Our initial operations to the US will be shipped directly to Mobile, [Alabama], although we may diversify and optimize our export channels depending on customer needs, he said.
Shipping PE from the Braskem Idesa site to Mobile takes only two days. Material from the site also can be brought into the U.S. via rail at Laredo, Texas.
The $4.5 billion project sits on a 494-acre site in Nanchital, half a mile from Coatzacoalcos where much of Mexico's petrochemicals industry is concentrated. Petrochemical complexes nearby include Pajaritos, Cosoleacaque, Morelos and Cangrejera.