Düsseldorf, Germany — Braskem is only a few months away from completing a major polypropylene resin expansion in North America.
The addition of just over 1 billion pounds of annual PP production in La Porte, Texas, is expected to start production in the second quarter of 2020, North America Executive Vice President Mark Nikolich said Oct. 16 at K 2019 in Düsseldorf.
"We're really pleased with the performance of our team," he added. "We've got 1,300 contractors on-site, and mechanical completion should be done by the end of January. We're on plan and on budget."
The primary target of PP made by the new line is the U.S. market, although Nikolich said the new capacity will also support São Paulo-based Braskem's efforts in Brazil and Europe.
"We built in the U.S. because the U.S. has been structurally short on polypropylene," he explained. "North American converters want to grow, but they can't because the market's been constrained."
And Nikolich is unconcerned by a slow 2019 growth year in North America, where sales have fallen short of the 2.5 percent average that the firm expects in the current market.
"There's been a shortfall in North America, but in the last four years we've had years of 1 percent growth and 7 percent growth," he said. "This year, it's the same thing that we've seen in base chemicals. Growth has been affected by a lot of different factors, but we're still seeing demand growth in North America."
The presence of low-priced shale gas and oil feedstocks give North America an advantage as well, according to Nikolich.
Also at K 2019, Braskem formally launched its new I'm Green-brand recycled PP resin in the United States. Officials said that the rollout is one of the first new offerings under the expanded I'm Green portfolio.
Braskem, with U.S. headquarters in Philadelphia, is expanding the brand to encompass the firm's full range of circular economy products. Officials said that Braskem did so as part of its commitment to help transform the plastics chain from a linear economy into a circular economy.
The I'm Green brand now includes Braskem's product developments in bio-based resins, post-consumer resins, as well as mixed bio-based and post-consumer solutions.
Feedstock for the new I'm Green recycled PP is derived from PP twine typically used for agricultural hay bales, which would otherwise be directed to landfills after use. Twine offers a circular source of feedstock with consistent material characteristics.
The twine is reprocessed, dyed black for product color uniformity, and then tested for purity and quality. Officials said the resulting homopolymer PP pellets are well suited for use in compounding, packaging, in automotive, housewares and consumer goods.
Nikolich said that the new recycled PP "isn't just a flash in the pan or a trial."
"The vast majority of our application development work centers around sustainability," he explained. "We're figuring out how to make newer resins that are more recyclable and more compatible with other resins."
Braskem's Braskem Idesa petrochemicals complex in Mexico is also undergoing some expansion work to increase its ability to access ethane feedstock. Ethane supply limits have reduced the site's operating rate.
A modest ethane project will be completed by the end of the year, with a larger one to take place in the next 24 months. PE production at the site also will grow by at least 200 million pounds in the next 24 months through a debottlenecking.
Braskem ranks as one of the largest polyolefin makers in the Americas. The firm employs 8,000 and posted sales of $15.8 billion in 2018.