News Focus: Producers scramble to provide polyamide 12 alternatives for auto sector

30 April 2012 00:00  [Source: ICB]

The blast at Evonik Industries' cyclododecatriene (CDT) plant in Marl, Germany, has taken out an estimated 40% of the world's nylon 12 (also known as polyamide 12, or PA-12) capacity, leaving automotive customers scrambling to find alternatives. Now producers of polyamides are working with automakers to fill the void with alternatives.

Nylon 12 is used to make auto parts, such as fuel tanks, and brake and fuel line coatings. It is also used to make solar panels and cable coverings used in offshore oil and gas production. Nylon 12 supplies had already been tight because of demand from the energy sector. The March 31 explosion, which killed two workers, made the market even tighter.

Evonik Marl explosion, PA

 © PA

The explosion occurred at Evonik's plant in Marl on March 31

Evonik hopes to fully repair its CDT plant at Marl by December, the company said. CDT is used to make laurolactam, which, in turn, is used as a monomer in nylon 12.

The US auto industry held an emergency meeting on April 17 to discuss the shortage of nylon 12, according to media reports.

"Japanese-based Ube, the other major producer of PA-12, is already running full out. Automakers have been compiling a list of chemical alternatives that could be a viable substitute for PA-12 and have been speaking to such chemical companies as DuPont, Dow, and BASF to formulate a replacement," noted Frank Mitsch, analyst with US-based investment bank Wells Fargo.

"Currently, DuPont has its biodiesel based resin - used by Fiat - that can replace some forms of PA-12. DuPont has reportedly seen elevated order inquiries since the blast, and could potentially benefit from this shortage," he added.

"We have got application development people and sales people out with each of the OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] that are impacted to really understand if we can help out," CEO Ellen Kullman said during the company's first-quarter conference call on April 19.

France's Rhodia produces nylon 6,10, and it is working with customers seeking replacements for nylon 12, a company spokesperson said.

Germany's BASF is also trying to mitigate the shortage, said Susan Jackson, communications manager for engineering foams, plastics and specialty plastics. "Regarding CDT specifically, we are a very small manufacturer of this PA-12 precursor, and we have already offered to support Evonik to the extent we are able," she said.

US compounder A. Schulman promoted nylon 6,12 as an alternative to nylon 12 at the recent NPE plastics conference in Orlando, Florida, US.

Not only does nylon 6,12 meet the same chemical resistance factors as nylon 12, it also has a higher melting point and therefore could be used for more applications, said Joe Ocampo, product and applications development manager for Schulman. Nylon 6,12 is also more readily available and lower priced than nylon 12, he added.

US-based polymers producer INVISTA is running its production of CDT at capacity to stem a shortage of nylon 12 for the US automotive industry.

"INVISTA's CDT operations are running hard, working to make available as much material as possible and still maintain its commitment to safety and environmental compliance," said INVISTA communication manager Jodie Stutzman.

INVISTA is the sole US producer of CDT, with its facility in Victoria, Texas. INVISTA did not say how much CDT capacity it has at the site.

"We will do all that we can to bring any additional product to the market quickly and safely, though we presently have limited excess capacity," said Stutzman.

EVONIK ALTERNATIVES

Evonik says it is able to provide alternative substitutes to its CDT-based PA-12 products in the form of its VESTAMID Terra DD, which contains 45% renewable-based materials made from castor oil derivatives (mostly sebacic acid). The product is based on the polycondensation product of 1,10-decamethylene diamine and 1,12-dodecanedioic acid.

EU Nylon pricesVESTAMID Terra also comes as polyamide 6,10 which has 63% bio-content, and polyamide 10,10 - a 100% bio-based polymer.

Evonik said it is possible to modify the bio-based polymers to achieve much of the same material attributes as PA-12. The company has begun measures to increase production capacities of its VESTAMID Terra polymers at its Shanghai, China, plant.

An additional compounding facility for VESTAMID Terra will become operational in the third quarter, and new capacity for the polymerization of the bio-based nylon is scheduled to operate in the second half of 2013.

France-based Arkema has also been expanding its castor-based polyamides (under the RILSAN brand) since acquiring Hipro Polymers and Casda Biomaterials in 2011.

Other castor-based polyamide producers include Rhodia, BASF, Netherlands-based DSM and DuPont.


Author: Wesley Busch, Ivan Lerner and Stefan Baumgarten



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