Issue Date: March 16, 2015
European Polymer Makers Invest In U.S.
Three European chemical makers are investing a combined $100 million-plus in U.S. production of specialty polymers. Taken together, the projects are a sign that the U.S. is a preferred investment location for more than just ethylene crackers and other basic chemical plants.
Solvay is spending $85 million to build a grassroots polyether ether ketone plant in Augusta, Ga., and expand output at an existing facility in Panoli, India. The project will add more than 2,500 metric tons of capacity for the high-performance polymer by mid-2016, according to Solvay.
Arkema will build a facility in Mobile, Ala., for polyether ketone ketone, a high-performance polymer the firm debuted in 2013. Arkema says the plant will open in the second half of 2018. At the same time, the company plans to double capacity at its existing facility in France.
And focusing on a lower-end polymer used in coatings and adhesives, Wacker Chemie will spend more than $50 million to build a vinyl acetate-ethylene dispersions plant at its site in Calvert City, Ky. To open later this year, the plant will add 85,000 metric tons per year of capacity and make the complex the largest of its kind in the Americas, Wacker says.
The polyaryl ether ketone expansions by Solvay and Arkema make sense given the economic growth the U.S. is enjoying as much of the rest of the world stagnates, according to Jay Dwivedi, who completed a study of the high-end polymers market last year for Principia Consulting. “The U.S. is not only a large market for high-performance polymers, it is also growing,” Dwivedi says.
Arkema points out that U.S. demand for its polymer, trade-named Kepstan, is expanding in the aerospace and defense sectors, where it is used in structural thermoplastic composites and to make semistructural parts via three-dimensional printing.
Other attractive applications for polyaryl ether ketones, Dwivedi notes, include medical implants and specialized electronics. Moreover, the polymers are lucrative products. They can sell for more than $60 per kg, he says, and should enjoy growth rates of close to 10% per year.
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