INSIGHT: Borealis steps up PP process tech

03 September 2008 15:57  [Source: ICIS news]

By Nigel Davis

LONDON (ICIS news)--Keeping pace with the changing polymers business will not be easy for most players.

The introduction of significant new low-cost polyolefins production capacities will herald a new era for the sector. More business will be driven by price and different tools will be needed to manage increasingly sensitive cost-price relationships.

Established producers will find the going hard, particularly those without latent or acquired feedstock advantage. But the changing face of polyolefins will not be based simply on cost.

Producers, for years so well aware of the likely impact of mountains of new production capacity, have focused closely on all critical elements of the business.

The most successful will have got the mix of cost, operational excellence and technology right.

News from Borealis on Wednesday also demonstrates how companies might be expected to push further the total operational envelope.

The Vienna-based polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) maker continues to develop its proprietary Borstar polyolefins production technology alongside its production footprint in the Middle East.

It says the successful completion of laboratory reactors for PP polymerisation at its innovation headquarters in Linz, Austria, is a significant breakthrough.

The aim is to accelerate product development and the opportunity of bringing new products to market. The bench-scale reactors will be used to accurately mimic a continuous pilot or plant process.

The first polymerisation was carried out in a lab-scale PP reactor capable of mimicking the Borstar technology and showed excellent activity, process stability and polymer morphology, Borealis says.

“This valuable research tool complements our new parallel pressure reactor (PPR) catalyst research facility in Finland, opening up new opportunities for Borealis to respond more quickly and efficiently to the needs of our customers,” Borealis vice-president for innovation and technology Alfred Stern said in a press statement.

“We are looking forward to exploring the full potential of this research system across our business teams.”

Technology announcements don’t always generate a great deal of excitement or oft-times interest, but step changes in innovation abilities add considerably to a company’s competitive arsenal.

The Borealis development, linked with expertise in catalysis, process and polymer design, pilot, plant and asset management across various business units will help the company better serve customers selling into infrastructure, automotive and advanced packaging applications.

It highlights the potential of innovation breakthroughs and the importance of linking innovation across the business to ensure that technology delivers to its potential.

Borealis has spent €5.5m ($8.7m) on a project which has brought kudos to the Linz R&D HQ.

The company says it is investing significantly in the Linz location in infrastructure, personnel and high tech scientific hardware and developing links with universities and insitutes of higher learning including the Johannes Kepler and Montan Universities in Austria and the Petroleum Institute of Abu Dhabi.

Its group-wide strategy is for 25% on innovation centre investments to be dedicated to long-term R&D.

Borstar process and fundamental catalyst developments take place at Porvoo in Finland. Wire, cable and pipe polyethylene development takes place at Stenungsund in Sweden.

A much more globally competitive polyolefins environment demands that producers are firing on all cylinders. PP prices particularly are weakening as new Middle East capacities come on-stream.

The business is not going to get any easier as new competitive capacities are factored into the market.

The Borealis strategy is to put effort into higher value-added polymer applications while building cost competitive, high-tech production facilities in Abu Dhabi. The Linz bench-scale development helps accelerate that process.

($1 = €0.69)

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By: Nigel Davis
+44 20 8652 3214

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