Development of specialist quality materials will dominate in 2009

Paul Boughton

Europe's focus on bulk chemical manufacture may have faded in recent times, but 2009 is proving to be the year of new advanced materials launches - particularly where high-performance and specialist qualities are demanded by customers. Sean Ottewell reports.

In March, Dow Europe announced the start up of a new solution styrene butadiene rubber (SSBR) plant in Schkopau, Germany. The new facility includes a capacity rights agreement with JSR Corporation, based in Japan. Dow owns and operates the new asset. This new plant is a world-scale facility with a production capacity of 60000t/y.

SSBR is a key component used in the manufacture of high performance tyres, as well as technical rubber goods. The new plant produces the latest generation of synthetic rubber - a key component in the manufacturing of tread profiles in high performance tyres.

"Our new products enable our tyre producing partners to implement significant advantages in areas like rolling resistance (fuel efficiencies and carbon dioxide emissions) and grip performance, while increasing their supply security," says Ralf Irmert, global business director synthetic rubber at Dow.

The company has also launched VORATHERM polyisocyanurate (PIR) rigid foam for use in metal-faced sandwich panels. This new product family combines the excellent thermal insulation properties of conventional polyurethane (PUR) foam with the enhanced fire resistance of PIR. Designed for commercial, industrial and residential building applications, including cold rooms, clean rooms, warehouses and office space, VORATHERM can help manufacturers meet a variety of fire safety requirements for both insurance and national regulations.

"Changing market requirements and evolving legislation pose challenges for panel manufacturers," said Brian Powers, global market manager for construction polyurethanes at Dow Polyurethane Systems. "They have to maintain the insulating effectiveness of their products, meet increasingly stringent fire safety codes and remain a preferred supplier to their customers."

In addition, the company has announced the commercial availability of four polypropylene-based products for rigid packaging converters in Europe, expanding its family of INSPIRE performance polymers with differentiated grades that offer performance and processing advantages for specific rigid packaging applications. The key applications targeted by these grades include thermoformed food trays, large bulk containers, food saving containers, and buckets and pails.

"European rigid packaging converters are increasing their reliance on innovative materials to sustain competitive advantage in these challenging market conditions," said Fabrice Digonnet, European rigid packaging market manager for Dow Europe. "These four INSPIRE grades can bring specific technical options to the converters enabling them to adapt to rapidly changing requirements from the value chain."

In Germany, a battery consortium headed by BASF Future Business has won EUR21m sponsorship from the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). This opens the way for development of new generations of high-energy batteries for use in plug-in hybrid automobiles and the electric powered vehicles of the future.

"In research, we must make the decisive breakthrough with new battery materials as soon as possible. Only then can we make electromobility affordable and free it from its niche existence," says Andreas Kreimeyer, member of the board of executive directors of BASF and research executive director.

The aim is to achieve two to five times more energy density compared to previous battery systems. This will ensure that plug-in hybrids and electrically powered vehicles can reach acceptable driving ranges. This in turn means having to improve the cathode of the battery. BASF experts are developing a portfolio of innovative cathode materials, special metal oxides, that are produced by high-temperature synthesis. These activities include the conceptual design of the materials, laboratory synthesis and scale-up. At present the materials still account for more than 50 per cent of the cost of lithium ion batteries.

"By today's standards, a lithium ion battery for a VW Golf would be as expensive as the vehicle itself. Modern production processes are needed to assure high quality and environmentally friendly manufacture and to significantly reduce costs. To achieve these goals, materials research experts are needed as much as system developers," noted Thomas Weber, md of BASF Future Business.

BASF has also just launched its first plastic containing carbon nanotubules (CNT). Known as Ultraform N2320 C, this is a polyoxymethylene compound with special additives that give it a high level of electric conductivity and toughness. Bosch is to use the material in a fuel filter housing for the Audi A4 and A5.

For its part Solvay, in a 70/30 joint venture with BASF known as SolVin, has successfully started up new production capacity for DIOFAN polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC) latex at its Tavaux plant in France.

DIOFAN PVDC latex is a versatile, specialty barrier material. Key applications include coatings on high-value packaging films and papers where the integrity of the goods is critical, especially in the food and pharmaceutical industries. It also finds use as a binder in the production of water-based paints with exceptional corrosion resistance and moisture barrier.

The new production line boosts SolVin's annual PVDC capacity by approximately 20000t/y. Originally targeted to start up in mid-2009, construction was completed ahead of schedule and the first runs occurred in the last week of January. Initial samples from the new line are available to customers for evaluation now.

The new production line in Tavaux benefits from the full upstream integration of raw materials and from the expertise of the manufacturing staff who have developed this operation to the global standard in terms of PVDC product quality and consistency. The new line is physically separated from the other PVDC production lines, providing important backup to current assets.

"The unique properties of polyvinylidene chloride latex make it the preferred choice of the food and pharma industry to match the highest barrier requirements," observed Vincenzo Morici, general manager of the specialty polymers strategic business unit, Solvay. "With this new production capacity SolVin is upholding its commercial and technological leadership as well as its global reputation of excellence for this class of products. And it can continue serving its customers' expansion, while feeding Solvay's strategy of sustainable and profitable growth in the specialty polymers business."

Resins and coatings

LyondellBassell has announced that its breakthrough Hostalen advanced cascade process (Hostalen ACP) is now available for license to third parties. The technology's enhanced multi-modality enables the production of high-performance resins used in demanding film, blow moulding and pipe applications.

LyondellBasell produces more than one million tonnes per year of Hostalen ACP resins at the following wholly-owned and joint venture locations: 320 000 t/y at Wesseling in Germany, 320 000 t/y in Plock Poland, 400000t/y in Al-Jubail Industrial City, Saudi Arabia and 250000t/y in Münchsmünster, Germany.

Just Jansz, president of LyondellBasell's technology business, commented, "The market demands high-performance HDPE, and our unique multi-modal technology effectively meets these needs. At LyondellBasell, we have already converted all of our HDPE slurry plants into the new Hostalen ACP process."

The multi-modal Hostalen ACP technology addresses customer needs that are beyond the limits of standard bi-modal HDPE, producing resins with an advanced toughness/stiffness balance, superior impact resistance, higher stress crack resistance and significantly improved processing advantages. The process enables producers to create resins that meet demanding requirements for major HDPE applications ranging from thin-wall packaging to crack-resistant pipe.

Meanwhile AkzoNobel has agreed to divest its non-stick coatings business to privately-owned, US-based company Whitford Worldwide. Financial details have not been disclosed.

The deal involves AkzoNobel's global cookware and bakeware activities, which operate out of five sites in the US, China, India, Brazil and Italy. The transaction is expected to be completed shortly.

"Although it is a solid business, our non-stick coatings operation does not have the scale for it to become a true market leader globally," explained Leif Darner, AkzoNobel's Board member responsible for performance coatings. "In the hands of new owners, however, it offers good growth opportunities and we are convinced our employees are joining an ambitious and successful company run by capable professionals who we trust to take the business forward."

Back in better-known territory, the company is providing paint solutions for this season's Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Formula 1 team. Its new MP4-24 coating has been finished with what the company describes as a sophisticated, state-of-the-art system of Sikkens products. This produces a highly-distinctive chrome finish, which can be cured on new bodywork parts in under half the time of conventional coatings.

Another new coating comes courtesy of Ciba. The company used the recent European Coatings Show 2009 to introduce a new high-performance pigment. Known as IRGAZIN Solid Red, this diketo-pyrrole-pyrrole pigment is designed for automotive, industrial and decorative coatings.

"IRGAZIN Solid Red offers better saturation than other colour index pigment red 254 products, together with high colour strength and hiding power, and excellent durability, even in the highly saturated yellow-shade red colour area," said Andreas Türk, global dead of Ciba's paints & coatings business line.

According to the company, additional properties of IRGAZIN Solid Red include excellent flow and gloss, and high resistance to chemicals, solvents and bleeding.

Finally, DuPont's latest offering is patented smart-fibre technology that gives firefighters up to 20 per cent more thermal performance when they encounter emergency conditions.

Nomex On Demand is specifically engineered to react and expand when temperatures reach 120°C or higher. In routine conditions, thermal liners made with the fibres remain thin and flexible, providing excellent thermal protection and good mobility.

"We are committed to protecting firefighters and other emergency responders with innovative products that will help enable them to perform their jobs as safely as possible," said Thomas G Powell, vice president and general manager DuPont Advanced Fibre Systems.

The company also believes that Nomex on Demand will find other applications in oil and gas operations, auto racing and military operations.