Orlando, Fla. — In world history, the Renaissance advanced art, science, music and critical thought and lasted for about 300 years, from the 14th to 17th centuries.
North America's petrochemicals renaissance hasn't lasted nearly as long, but that's just fine with Nova Chemicals.
"We're part of a renaissance, and we're thrilled to have the opportunity to grow our business," John Thayer, Nova's polyethylene senior vice president, said in an interview at NPE2018 in Orlando. He added that the value of being at NPE was the chance to talk to so many of the firm's customers all in one place.
"We're excited about the opportunities where [natural gas] feedstock is available, whether that's in western Canada or in other places," said Thayer, who's been with Calgary, Alberta-based Nova in a variety of roles since 1997 and assumed his current position in January. Nova ranks as one of North America's largest PE makers.
Nova and many other petrochemicals makers have taken advantage of newfound shale-based natural gas deposits throughout North America to add capacity for PE and similar materials. Nova opened a new PE line in Joffre, Alberta, in late 2016 and also plans to add capacity in Sarnia, Ontario, and through a joint venture on the U.S. Gulf Coast.
The Sarnia project will use Nova's Advanced Sclairtech technology and add almost 1 billion pounds of annual PE capacity by late 2021, Thayer said at NPE2018. On the Gulf Coast, Bayport Polymers is a joint venture 50 percent owned by Total Petrochemicals and 50 percent owned by Novealis Holdings LLC, which itself is a joint venture between Nova and petrochemicals firm Borealis of Vienna. Nova is owned by Mubadala Investment Co. of Abu Dhabi, which is also majority owner of Borealis.
Bayport Polymers broke ground on an ethane cracker in Port Arthur, Texas, on June 4. That project eventually could include almost 1.4 billion pounds of new PE capacity in Bayport, Texas, where Total already operates almost 900 million pounds of PE production.
Target end markets for this new PE include high-performance films and other types of food packaging, Thayer said.
"We're still seeing a lot of conversion from glass and aluminum to plastic," he explained. "And there are promotional possibilities with pouches and single-serve products.
"We're seeing robust fundamentals in North America. Our customers are expanding because of greater [PE] capacities."
Some of that new material also will be exported to markets outside of North America.
"North America can satisfy global [PE] demand," Thayer said, adding that global PE demand growth "balances North American supply."
"There will be some choppiness in these startups," he said. "And a market like China is still growing 10 percent."
The plastics industry in general should look at the image of single-use plastics, according to Thayer.
"That [single-use plastics] platform is at a tipping point," he said. "The products have great benefits in how they protect food, but they don't belong on a beach or in the water or on a road."
With this goal in mind, plastics firms "need to work with associations to do more to make recycling easier and to participate in the circular economy."