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Additives help target value-added applications during high-resin-price environment

The market for plastics additives and fillers is intertwined with the demand for polymers.

Again this year, additives suppliers hope to stabilize business in Europe, Japan, and North America and expect increased demand in China, Latin America, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and other Asia/Pacific markets. Most growth may come in specialty, niche products that provide a functional enhancement to polymer as well as extend resin properties. Less dynamic are markets where the additive helps retain polymer properties.

New developments in antioxidants have concentrated on specialty, high-performance processing stabilizers, says Brendan Cummins, executive VP, plastics additives, at Ciba Specialty Chemicals (Basel, Switzerland). Some growth is evident in preblends that help processors obtain better productivity, quality, and easier handling. Most demand should come from the same areas where new polymer throughput is coming onstream, such as the Middle East and Asia/Pacific, where feedstock prices are low.

Cummins says processors can expect more innovations from NOR-hindered amine light stabilizers in the coming years to address challenges in high-performance agricultural films where pesticides are used, as well in the automotive sector on paintable bumpers.

As processing shifts to low-labor-cost areas in Eastern Europe and Asia, the demand for UV stabilizers will shift to these markets as well. Another trend is with large processors doing more inline compounding of their own additive packages.

A continued decrease in use of brominated fire retardant (FR) products is tied to legislative measures, mainly in Europe. Such laws could affect additives producers'' plans for certain product lines. Take, for example, a decision by FR manufacturer Great Lakes Chemical (Indianapolis, IN)-which announced in March its merger with additives competitor Crompton to form Chemtura-to phase out penta- and octa-polybrominated diphenyl ether additives by the end of last year. Phosphorous- and nitrogen-based FR solutions should benefit from this trend.

Nanofillers are still in their infancy and are not projected to make a big impact soon. Not only is there increased legislation affecting the use of different FRs but the industry is taking steps that can be seen as a means of protecting itself against liability lawsuits. Sony''s decision to sell only FR-protected television housings is an example.

FR growth should continue this year in construction items as well as electrical and electronic applications. Of the three largest performance additive classes (antioxidants, light stabilizers, and FRs), flame retardants are showing the highest demand.

Surface modifiers represent a market 10 times smaller than those already mentioned and real growth is seen in surface modification mainly in permanent, nonmigrating products; additives that provide antistat effects without carbon black; and those that don''t produce fogging. Despite its small size, growth is occurring because these products address many processors'' needs.

In antimicrobials, demand is spurred by EU legislation that takes effect in two years, as well as a desire in developed regions for improved hygiene. Silver-based additives are experiencing particular growth.

Most antimicrobial products are being tailored to particular applications today rather than offered as standard, off-the-shelf additive packages, says Ciba''s Cummins.

Mixed-metal PVC heat stabilizers should continue some growth this year at the expense of lead. Preventing a full-scale changeover are high costs and complaints that products such as calcium-zinc don''t process as easily as lead. New formulations introduced during

K 2004 in Düsseldorf, Germany, could produce price decreases as well as processability improvements.

Some growth is being seen in sorbitol ester-based clarifiers for polypropylene (PP) applications while beta nucleators haven''t yet found many applications.

Demand is coming from injection and blowmolded applications where better cycle times and reduced haze are important. If these improvements continue, PP could make a real challenge in future PET markets.

Speakers at the Additives 2005 conference in New Orleans, LA, an event sponsored by Modern Plastics Worldwide, indicated that now, with high resin prices, additives are increasingly adding value to applications.

Ron Babinsky, business manager at analyst Townsend Polymer Services & Information (Houston, TX), says increased use of additives can help processors develop high-value-added niche products that can in turn improve profitability and help maintain customer relationships.

Robert Colvin [email protected]

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