Braskem SA has opened a new plant making Utec-brand ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) in LaPorte, Texas.
“This is an exciting day for Braskem America and our colleagues worldwide,” global Utec business director Christopher Gee said in a Jan. 18 news release. “Our team has worked diligently over the last two years on the construction, commissioning and startup of this state-of-the-art U.S.-based production plant. We are looking forward to continuing to grow and advance Braskem's UHMWPE business worldwide.”
In a Jan. 18 phone interview with Plastics News, Gee added that the new supply will help Braskem serve customers in North America as well as Europe and Asia.
“When we looked at making this investment in 2012, we knew that the [UHMWPE] market had steady growth at a multiple of GDP,” said Gee, one of PN's Rising Stars of 2015. “We had been making the product in Brazil for 20 years, but most of our client base was in North America and Europe. That was a major driver for us adding a second plant in Texas.”
The new location also will make it easier for Braskem to serve customers in high-growth markets in Asia, he added. Among end markets, Gee said that Braskem has seen steady growth for UHMWPE in agriculture, minerals, marine, material handling and other sectors.
Company officials have said that Utec is eight times lighter than steel and lasts 10 times longer than high density PE. It's used in many applications in automotive and transportation, electronics, fibers and textiles, industrial and heavy equipment and other markets.
The new plant is a converted polypropylene unit. Braskem continues to make PP at a separate unit in LaPorte. The original cost estimate for the project was $34 million. Officials declined to confirm the final investment amount.
The project has created an unspecified number of new jobs in LaPorte, where Braskem already employed 100. Officials said that Utec production in Brazil will not be affected by the new Texas site. In mid-2016, Braskem enhanced its R&D capabilities for Utec at the company's Innovation and Technology Center in Pittsburgh.
Braskem — based in São Paulo, with North American headquarters in Philadelphia — ranks as South America's largest resin maker and as North America's largest polypropylene producer, including almost 900 million pounds of existing PP capacity in La Porte. The firm — partly owned by Brazilian national oil firm Petrobras SA — employs more than 8,000 and has annual sales of more than $20 billion.