If you have an ACS member number, please enter it here so we can link this account to your membership. (optional)

ACS values your privacy. By submitting your information, you are gaining access to C&EN and subscribing to our weekly newsletter. We use the information you provide to make your reading experience better, and we will never sell your data to third party members.



Shale Gas Draws Japanese Plant

Feedstock: Cheap ethylene convinces Mitsubishi to make acrylic monomer in U.S.

by Jean-François Tremblay
June 23, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 25

Credit: Mitsubishi Rayon
Lucite, later bought by Mitsubishi Rayon, opened this ethylene-based MMA plant in Singapore in 2008.
Photo of Lucite’s methyl methacrylate facility in Singapore.
Credit: Mitsubishi Rayon
Lucite, later bought by Mitsubishi Rayon, opened this ethylene-based MMA plant in Singapore in 2008.

Mitsubishi Rayon and the trading firm Mitsui & Co. are planning a large acrylic plant in the U.S. that would use as feedstock low-cost ethylene supplied by Dow Chemical. The project is in keeping with a Japanese corporate strategy to take advantage of cheap shale-derived energy and raw materials in the U.S.

The proposed Japanese joint venture would build a 250,000-metric-ton-per-year plant making methyl methacrylate (MMA), a material used in acrylic plastics. Some of the plant’s output would be sold to Dow, which itself is a producer and user of MMA. The venture would likely be based on the Gulf Coast where Dow is building new shale-gas-fed ethylene capacity.

The MMA plant will implement Mitsubishi’s Alpha technology, a new production process originally developed by Lucite International that uses ethylene as its main feedstock. Most MMA production starts with hydrogen cyanide and acetone. Mitsubishi Rayon acquired Lucite in 2009 and was itself acquired by Mitsubishi Chemical soon thereafter. Trading company Mitsui is part of the venture because of its ability to raise financing and ship materials to buyers worldwide.

Mitsubishi Chemical declined to disclose a cost estimate for the project, which it expects will open by the end of 2018. Shigeki Okazaki, a stock analyst at the brokerage firm Nomura Securities, reckons the investment required will be in the neighborhood of $500 million.

Like other Japanese companies faced with high raw material costs in their home country, Mitsubishi Chemical is looking to the U.S. as a preferred investment site. When announcing its fiscal 2014 earnings earlier this year, the company said its management strategy includes “responding to the shale gas revolution.”

In April, the U.S. arm of the Japanese polyvinyl chloride producer Shin-Etsu Chemical filed permits with Louisiana authorities to build what would be the firm’s first U.S. ethylene cracker. And earlier this year, Japan’s Toray Industries acquired a 400-acre site in Spartanburg County, S.C., to set up new plants. At the time Toray said it anticipates investing about $1 billion in the U.S. because it sees the country regaining industrial competitiveness on the back of its abundant shale gas supply.



This article has been sent to the following recipient:

Chemistry matters. Join us to get the news you need.