US Trinseo sees higher margins for sustainable products

Author: Al Greenwood

2021/02/04

HOUSTON (ICIS)--Trinseo is earning higher margins for its sustainable products, whether they incorporate recycled resins or bio-based materials, the CEO of the styrenics producer said on Thursday.

"Irrespective of market dynamics, we are winning new business with those innovations and we are winning those at better margins than nonrecycled or nonsustainable materials," said Frank Bozich, CEO. He made his comments during an earnings conference call.

"As we accelerate and shift our mix towards more sustainable products, we could see further improvement in our margins and our growth simply because those products are in very high demand," Bozich said. For some products, prices are at multiples of virgin materials.

"Most of our end consumers and end-consumer-products companies really want to introduce products that are more sustainable," he said. "We are a leader in that now."

Demand for sustainable products is occurring on top of the increase that Trinseo is seeing from packaging, automobiles, appliances and other end markets that are benefitting from the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Trinseo is relying on a variety of ways to make its products more sustainable. Some incorporate post-industrial and post-consumer recycled resins. Others will take advantage of the relative ease of chemically recycling polystyrene (PS). Some are being made with bio-based materials.

INCORPORATING RECYCLED PLASTIC
In May 2020, Trinseo announced that it launched a new line of resins, called PULSE ECO, which is composed of 30-50% recycled content. It combines post-industrial recycled polycarbonate (PC) sourced in Europe with Trinseo's virgin MAGNUM acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS).

Trinseo is targeting PULSE ECO for parts used in the interior of automobiles.

In the company's Engineered Materials segment, sales of recycled-based PC compound, used mainly in consumer-electronics applications, grew by 50% in 2020, Bozich said.

In 2020, Trinseo and German packaging company Fernholz developed a new grade of post-consumer recycled polystyrene. The form-fill-seal formulations can incorporate 40% recycled PS, depending on the application.

The product relies on Trinseo's technology, which embeds the material into the polymerisation process using solvent processes.

CHEMICAL RECYCLING
Another promising area is chemical recycling, which breaks down plastics into its monomers.

When compared with other plastics, PS can be chemically recycled at lower temperatures and at yields of 65%, according to Trinseo.

Trinseo could incorporate the resulting styrene into several products made from styrene such as PS, ABS or styrene butadiene rubber (SBR).

Companies such as Agilyx are already chemically recycling PS, and more plants are being developed.

Trinseo and INEOS Styrolution are developing their own chemical-recycling plant in Wingles, France, that can process up to 50 tonnes/day. It should start operations by mid-2023.

BIOBASED MATERIAL
In 2020, Trinseo said its sales volumes doubled for its biobased footwear applications.

At the end of 2020, Trinseo received its first order of bio-based synthetic rubber, Bozich said.

Tyre companies want to improve their environmental and sustainable performance, and they could achieve those goals by using raw materials made of sustainable products, be they renewable or recycled.

These sustainable products would still need to be qualified for use in tyres. But since they will be made with biobased or chemically-recycled materials, they should be virtually indistinguishable from petroleum-based products.

Trinseo did not specify the types of biobased feedstock it is using. However, companies have developed biobased feedstock that can be used to make elastomers.

Focus article by Al Greenwood

Thumbnail image by Shutterstock