Castor oil to the auto rescue?

The global automotive industry is abuzz with the tightened supply of polyamide 12 (also called nylon 12) which are used in cable ties, wire insulation, flexible hosing, nozzles, damping cogwheels, flexible cover caps, sheet gaskets, sealing rings, and in other fuel line applications/auto-related parts.

PA-12 is also used in plastic parts to make solar panels and cable coverings used in offshore oil and gas production.

Based on several googled websites, PA-12 reportedly have excellent properties such as high degree of dimensional stability under humidity or freezing environment; high resistance to chemicals such as hydraulic fluids, oil, fuels, grease, salt water, solvents; strong resistance to cracking under stress; high-resistance to abrasion; and has high fatigue resistance.

PA-12 also dampens noise and vibration, according to various sources. Unfortunately, I am not familiar with cars but from what I’ve seen on several news about this PA-12, this is an important chemical for the automobile industry as car makers and several players along the automotive supply chain held an emergency meeting yesterday in Detroit, Michigan, to discuss the critical issue on PA-12 shortage.

According to this article from Plastics News, there are very few suppliers worldwide of  PA-12, namely Evonik, Arkema, Ube Industries and EMS-Grivory. Global PA-12 production was estimated at around 100m lbs/year. Evonik is the only producer here vertically integrated in a key PA-12 feedstock called cyclododecatriene (CDT), which is manufactured by cyclotrimerization of butadiene.

CDT is used to make laurolactam, which in turn is used as a monomer in PA-12.

Unfortunately, a fire broke out at the end of March at Evonik’s CDT facility in Marl, Germany, (two employees were killed) and CDT production (capacity is not disclosed) is expected to remain out-of-order for at least three months. This in turn, will affect PA-12 production for those who are dependent on CDT material.

Now here comes the castor part (sorry it took a while to get to this point…).

According to Evonik, the company 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 (this is where sebacic acid comes from).

VESTAMID Terra also comes as polyamide 6,10 which has a 63% biocontent — the polycondensation of 1,6 hexamamethylene diamine and 1,10 decanedoic diacid (another sebacic acid material); and polyamide 10,10 – a 100% bio-based polymer from the polycondensation of 1,10 decamethylene diamine and 1,10 decanedoic diacid.

Evonik said it is possible to modify the biobased polymers to achieve much of the same material attributes as PA-12. In fact, the company announced yesterday that it 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 of this year, and new capacity for the polymerization of the bio-based nylon are in the works and is scheduled to operate in the second half of 2013.

As the blog noted in previous posts about castor-based polyamides, Arkema has also been expanding its castor-based polyamides (under the RILSAN brand) — when it acquired Hipro Polymers and Casda Biomaterials last year.

Other castor-based polyamides producers include Rhodia (Technyl eXten: PA-6,10) , BASF (Ultramid Balance: PA-6,10),  DSM (EcoPaXX: PA-4,10) and DuPont (Zytel PA-10 and PA-6,10). One thing to note is that Elevance is also targeting to produce natural oil-based derivatives such as diacids for PA-11 and PA-12 and is currently collaborating with companies like Arkema and DSM.

An interesting information about this PA-12 shortage is that other types of polyamides such as PA-6,12 and PA-6,10 could be an alternative to PA-12, according to producers who were interviewed* by ICIS colleagues at the recent plastic tradeshow NPE.

According to US plastic compounder A Schulman, PA-6,12 is a superior alternative to PA-12 for automotive applications given the same chemical resistance factors but PA-6,12 is said to have higher melting point. According to A Schulman, PA-12 supply has been increasingly tight even before the Evonik fire incident as demand from the oil and gas production has taken consumption share from the automotive supply chain.

More plastics are also being used in the automotive manufacture and therefore nylon-based materials are increasingly being used.

DuPont said* it is also working with auto makers to find alternatives for PA-12 in certain applications.

Rhodia, which produces PA-6,10 is reportedly* also working with customers to seek replacement for PA-12, while BASF — a small CDT supplier as well, is offering its support to PA-12 producers.

Meanwhile, Evonik has also been in the middle of a planned PA-12 expansion, which was announced in December last year. Evonik said a 5,000 tonnes/year PA-12 expansion will supposedly start this year, and another 20,000 tonnes/year PA-12 expansion in its Asian facility is scheduled to be completed within 3 years.

*ICIS News subscription required

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