Düsseldorf, Germany — Officials with ExxonMobil Chemical are seeing rays of hope in a challenging time for the plastics industry.
"As I walk around the show, I've been really encouraged by the optimism of the industry," David Hergenrether, polyethylene vice president, said Oct. 21 at K 2019 in Düsseldorf. "People are starting to see the plastic waste challenge as an opportunity rather than a threat.
"Collaborations are starting to happen," he added. "There's a real focus on recycling and on sustainable options."
For Bhaskar Venkatraman, "the biggest thing is that people are being more thoughtful about how the material gets used." Venkatraman serves as global vice president for polypropylene, Vistamaxx and adhesion.
"Designers are going back to the board and doing a lot of innovative things," he added. "There's a lot of creativity across the value chain."
In the PE market, global capacity additions continue to try keeping pace with growth of 3.5-4 percent per year. ExxonMobil has added more than 3 billion pounds of annual PE capacity on the U.S. Gulf Coast since 2017. The firm also is working with Sabic Innovative Plastics on a petrochemical project, including new PE lines, that's set to open in 2022 in San Patricio County, Texas.
"Most [PE] demand growth is in growing regions," Hergenrether said. "The market might be a little overcapacity now, but demand will come back." He added that adding new capacity in North America — thanks to expansion of shale gas assets in the region — has given ExxonMobil "an opportunity to be a supplier for global growth."
The PP market still if growing more than the pace of GDP growth globally, Venkatraman said, with new ways of making propylene feedstock also being explored. Earlier this year, ExxonMobil confirmed plans to build a major new PP resin unit in Baton Rouge, La., with annual production capacity of almost 1 billion pounds. Construction on the new PP unit will begin this year, with production set to start in 2021.
For specialty elastomer Vistamaxx, ExxonMobil is adding a new line in Baytown, Texas, that will add almost 900 million pounds of capacity, more than doubling its global capacity for the material.
The new Vistamaxx line in Baytown will be incorporated into the existing chemical plant, said Lyn Greenwood, the project manager for the expansion project. Construction is expected to be completed in the second half of 2021, with operations beginning in 2022.
Looking ahead to new materials, Hergenrether said that some PE film segments are improving mechanical properties while allowing for thse use of recycled content. New PP grades are focused on lower emissions and higher stiffness for uses in auto and elsewhere, Venkatraman said, while Vistamaxx is expanding in foams for automotive and appliances.
"Our customers are really our partners, so it's important for us to collaborate with them on new materials," Hergenrether said.
Key highlights of ExxonMobil's presence at K 2019 included:
• New full PE laminated packaging solutions, containing Exceed XP, Exceed and Enable performance PE polymers, which officials said help overcome the recycling issues typically associated with conventional laminated structures. They added that these new full PE laminated solutions can easily be recycled where programs and facilities to collect and recycle plastic films exists, while delivering the performance properties needed for high-quality packaging.
• Technological advancements using recycled PE with performance PE polymers to produce a range of sustainable flexible film applications.
• Rethink Recycle with Vistamaxx performance polymers which officials said allow low-cost recycled content utilization while targeting high-value applications.
• "Game-changing" film technology that combines Exceed XP with ExxonMobil polypropylene to deliver heavy-duty sack films with extreme performance and high-heat resistance.
• New developments in coloring Exxtral performance polyolefins used for vehicle interiors beyond the dark/black and neutral colors that are currently available. Officials said that a new PP color spectrum is inspiring the creation of original design solutions for interior car parts, while maintaining the performance benefits.