Düsseldorf, Germany — ExxonMobil Chemical Co. (Hall 4/FG4) launched two new grades of Exceed XP polyethylene at K 2016, which is a good thing because by the end of next year, the firm will have a lot more PE to sell.
The new Exceed grades are aimed at films for greenhouse, food lamination and soft-shrink applications. They join a group of four new Exceed grades that debuted at the Chinaplas trade show earlier this year.
The grades introduced at K 2016 “bring value for new markets,” said Thomas Deman, global PE marketing manager, in an Oct. 20 interview at K 2016. The greenhouse films grade has excellent processability and high processing speeds, said Alechia Crown, global PE new products manager. The food lamination and soft-shrink grade offers good strength performance, she added.
The grades are commercial now and have been sampled by 100 customers worldwide, according to Larry Gros, global polymers product and applications development manager for Houston-based ExxonMobil. One of those customers is Vietnamese flexible packaging maker Thanh Phu, which was looking for a more recyclable solution for laminated packaging.
In 2017, ExxonMobil will open two new PE production lines in Mont Belvieu, Texas, with total annual production capacities of almost 3 billion pounds. The firm also is considering a new steam cracker and derivative units on the Gulf Coast through a partnership with industrial conglomerate Saudi Basic Industries Corp. of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Along with many other North American firms, ExxonMobil is adding PE capacity because of newfound supplies of low-priced natural gas feedstock in the region. This has led to some concern about potential overcapacity, since the amount of PE being added far exceeds domestic demand needs, meaning much of it will need to be exported outside of the region.
Deman doesn't share these concerns. “It's a big industry that's growing fast,” he said. “It adds [almost 9 billion pounds] of demand every year. That's six world-scale [PE] plants.”
“There are always surges in [PE] capacity, and we're seeing that now,” Gros added.
Deman compared the upcoming North American PE wave to a similar one that took place in the Middle East in the mid-2000s. Many of those projects were delayed, although most of them eventually came on.
“Plants don't always come on time,” he said. “And right now in North America, finding skilled labor to build these plants is a huge issue. I would say we're opportunity long and resource short.”
On the topic of exporting new PE, Deman said that ExxonMobil “will serve its customers where the growth is, no matter where in the world that might be.” He pointed out that Exceed XP “is a global platform with a global launch.”
Some of the firm's PE customers are planning to install new processing equipment as a result of the new PE, according to Deman. Gros added that some customers also are modernizing PE film lines in order to increase their output.
Deman also said he's confident that North America will continue to have an energy advantage thanks to natural gas. “There's still growth in shale gas production,” he said. “North America continues to be an area of opportunity.”
At K 2016, 13 equipment makers are running demonstrations with ExxonMobil materials. Windmöller & Holscher (Hall 17/A57), Jinming (Hall 17/A3), Bandera (Hall 17/C6) and Reifenhäuser BF (Hall 17/C22) are running 5-layer POD blown film with Exceed XP.
Hosokowa Alpine (Hall16/D6) is running 11-layer blown film and Sun Centre (Hall 16/C60) is making three-layer blown film, both also with Exceed XP. That material and Vistamaxx propylene elastomers are being used to make 3-layer blown film by Lung Meng (Hall 16/D55).
Colines (Hall 16/A39), Xinle Huabao (Hall 8b/F29) and SML (Hall 17/C42) are running cast film and extrusion coating with Exceed, Vistamaxx and Enable metallocene PE. Downstream converting applications with Exceed, Enable and Vistamaxx are being made by Hudson-Sharp (Hall 16/E6), CMD (Hall 3/G5) and Starlinger (Hall 16/B47).