14 December 2012 10:03 [Source: ICB]
US-based Eastman Chemical has retrofitted a plant it acquired last year to produce non-phthalate plasticizers, a product for which demand is increasing in developed countries and at a rate much faster than that for the plasticizer market as a whole.
Eastman bought the plant in Texas City, Texas, US, last year for $100m (€76m) from Sterling Chemicals. The plant is now producing its Eastman 168 product at a rate that increases the company's capacity of non-phthalate plasticizers by 60%.
Plasticizers make PVC flexible for medical applications
"Where we see demand rising is in developed economies, where the market is mature," Cullen said. "In addition, Asian countries like China that manufacture finished products are also seeking alternatives."
Plasticizers have a number of applications including making rigid plastics more flexible, thickening water-based adhesives, as well as making caulk pliable, said Brian Yobst, business manager for general purpose plasticizers.
Non-phthalate plasticizers are widely used in products such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC), toys, childcare items, food contact materials and medical devices. End markets include building and construction, health and wellness, as well as infant care.
Eastman has been producing its Eastman 168 non-phthalate plasticizers, which is 2-ethylhexonal-based, for more than 30 years but began focusing more on the product because of sustainability and switching consumer preference trends in key markets, Yobst said.
"We see a future for plasticizers in the non-phthalate area," Yobst said.
One reason for the trend shift is growing health concerns over phthalate-based plasticizers.
Europe's REACH regulatory regime has identified several plasticizers as carcinogenic, mutagenic or reprotoxic, said Mark Holt, global new market development manager at Eastman.
European non-governmental organisations have developed the Substitute It Now (SIN) list, identifying 14 plasticizers as toxic, Holt said. Eight of those are already considered by REACH as substances of very high concern.
Eastman has carried out a number of studies on its Eastman 168 and expects it to be a safe alternative to phthalate-based plasticizers, Holt said.
In addition, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a programme that identifies products the regulator considers safe for the environment.
"Eastman 168 is an ideal alternative to phthalate plasticizers because it is basically the same product and has the same applications," Cullen said.
"It's just a safe product," Holt added.
With the acquisition of several facilities in the last three years, Eastman now has 10 non-phthalate plasticizers facilities that serve the four key regions of North America, Latin America, Europe and Asia.
In April, the company completed the retrofit and start-up of the former Sterling plant in Texas City.
While Eastman did not disclose specific amounts, Cullen said the plant can produce several hundred million pounds a year of Eastman 168. The non-phthalate plasticizers are also produced at Kingsport, Tennessee, US.
Eastman had acquired three other facilities to strengthen that company's position in producing in non-phthalate plasticizers.
In 2011, the company bought Scandiflex, which has a non-phthalate plasticizer production site in Sao Paulo, Brazil, to strengthen its presence in Latin America.
In 2010, Eastman acquired Genovique Specialties, which has plants that produce benzoic plasticizers in Chestertown, Maryland, as well as Kohtla-Jarve, Estonia and Wuhan, China.
Looking forward, Cullen said about 95% of plasticizers are used to make PVC more flexible, and Eastman expects to see an increase in demand as the US housing and construction industries rebound.
With Eastman's experience in the non-phthalate plasticizers industry and with the recent expansion of its portfolio, the company in a unique position to meet the growing demand with the consumer preference and technology shift - not only in North America but also globally, Cullen said.
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