Materials maker Braskem SA has overcome multiple challenges to open its new billion-pound capacity polypropylene resin line in La Porte, Texas.
Officials with São Paulo-based Braskem announced the commercial start of the new line Sept. 10. The $750 million project — named Project Delta — can produce a full line of homopolymer, random copolymer and impact copolymer PP grades.
"I've been in the business for 32 years, and this team and this project has made me the most proud," Braskem America Inc. CEO Mark Nikolich said Sept. 11 in an online news conference. "We broke ground just after Hurricane Harvey [in 2017] and concluded just after Hurricane Laura and in the midst of COVID-19. That's an amazing feat."
Nikolich described Project Delta as "a miracle project" that came in less than 10 percent over its original budget and schedule in spite of rising costs on the U.S. Gulf Coast. The project created 1,300 jobs during construction and provides 50 permanent jobs.
The new line brings much needed supply to what's become a tight market for PP resin in North America. Nikolich said the plant's output originally was going to be split evenly between domestic and export sales, but now will be aimed at domestic customers.
"We need to stabilize the supply chain," he added.
The COVID-19 pandemic led Braskem workers to pull marathon 28-day shifts at PP plants in Marcus Hook, Pa., and Neal, W. Va. The pandemic also impacted Project Delta. "We used digital platforms to commission equipment because we couldn't travel," Nikolich said. "That created some mayhem, but we were able to get through it. The expectation was to start production in the first half [of 2020], but that lagged because of COVID-19."
The pandemic also caused domestic PP demand to decline, especially in the automotive market, but Nikolich said it has recovered and in some end markets is ahead of pre-COVID levels. "We had a couple of tough months in durables, but [demand] has come back with vengeance," he added. "It's been a v-shaped recovery. Some of that is inventory build, but some of it is a change in how people are consuming."
Braskem's Texas operations in La Porte and Oyster Creek avoided major damage from Hurricane Laura, which made land near the Texas-Louisiana border in late August.
"We shut down Oyster Creek and La Porte for 48 hours, but we were among the fortunate ones," Nikolich said. "We had no major damage and were able to start back up. It caused some additional delays with Project Delta but didn't impact our ultimate goal."
Braskem also plans to open a major export hub in Charleston, S.C., later this year. That location will be able to export 450 million pounds of PP and specialty resins per year.
"North America has become an export hub for polyethylene, and polypropylene will flip from importing to exporting," Nikolich said. "We'll be part of that."
He added that the new line in La Porte — the first new PP production site in North America since 2008 — increases Braskem's production in the region by 30 percent and "affirms our polypropylene leadership in North America."
Braskem ranks as one of the largest polyolefins makers in the Americas and as a leading producer of biopolymers. The firm employs 8,000 and posted sales of $13.3 billion in 2019.