SPI compounders conference: The good, the bad and the irrelevant

The two-day SPI Vinyl Products Compounders Conference has been held every summer for the past 26 years. At this year's conference in Alexandria, VA, last week, there were around 180 registrants (including the 18 speakers), many of whom come back each year and know each other. They mostly hail from companies that sell and buy ingredients, especially plasticizers, but also stabilizers, foaming agents and such. The focus was on e-resin uses such as plastisols, but most of the meeting applied to other PVC uses, as well. You weren't there? No problem. Here is a summary in 18 bullet points of what was discussed.

  1. Bill Carteaux, President of SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association, talked of the growing demand for plastics, the positive effect of U.S. shale gas and the success of NPE2015 in Orlando.
  2. Martin Regalia, Chief Economist of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, gave us an economist's view, which was over the head of most of the audience. He was critical of government efforts to regulate anything and everything, making the "less-government" people feel good, but he didn't say much about plastics.
  3. Howard Fineman, a political analyst and journalist, gave an entertaining and insightful talk mainly about the presidential candidates on both sides. Worth hearing, but again nothing to do with plastics.
  4. Vicki Worden, Director of the Green Building Institute, finally got into plastics issues. Her nonprofit organization rates buildings on their "green-ness." She mainly talked about the process used and her efforts to augment the better-established LEED standards (which don't treat PVC very well) with her own Green Globes. I hope she learned more about why PVC isn't so bad, after all—flame resistance, less energy to make and process, fewer fossil fuels used, meets product needs cheaply and efficiently, and so forth.
  5. Dave Sams, VP of xF Technologies, presented the company's new category of plasticizers—difuroates—which are now made from sugar (corn or sugar cane) and eventually will be made from inedible biomass such as grass, straw and corn husks. This technology appeals to the bio-is-good people, which include major brand owners and retailers. Chemically, difuroates are more like dibenzoates and less like the much-maligned phthalates. It seems possible that the price may eventually be competitive with current materials, so we should stay tuned. 
  6. Deon Thompson is President of the Resilient Floor Covering Institute, serving makers of what the company calls sheet flooring as opposed to tile flooring. Much of this is PPVC, and much of it is internally foamed (hence resilient) with a solid skin. He reported on his efforts to fight back on the listing of DINP (di-iso-nonyl phthalate) by Proposition 65 in California by filing a Safe Use Determination application on behalf of flooring makers.
  7. Glynis Priester (Wells Fargo), John Paulk (Safehold, insurance spinoff from Wells Fargo) and Bill Hall (Venable, lawyers) announced a program for insuring just about anyone in the value chain against losses because of Proposition 65 bounty hunters. The average loss for companies sued for failure to adequately notify buyers with a Prop. 65 warning is $140,000 (including both penalties and bounties), so their prime product insures up to $250,000 with an option to buy more coverage for more money.
  8. Andreas Winter of German resin maker Vinnolit reported on new "paste" (emulsion) resins. They are made slightly differently than the standard suspension resins we would be using, cost more and have a smaller particle size. They are preferred for such uses as resilient floor covering, auto upholstery and glove dipping. He talked about phthalate replacement (the Germans seem at least as tough as our Californians), and also about VOCs (volatile organic components),which are undesirable in auto upholstery and may transfer taste to anything going through a hose. 
  9. John Grant of SPI (Manager, Government Affairs) talked about the proposed new TSCA (Toxic Substances Control Act), which was passed by the House and is expected to be approved after the summer recess. (In my opinion, though, there is still some opposition from members of Congress, who don't want to pass anything that Obama might get credit for).
  10. Dick Doyle heads up the Vinyl Institute, now independent of SPI. It is the resin makers group that does the most defending against anti-PVC activists. Their areas of concentration are expansion of PVC markets; advocacy at local/state/federal levels and "demystifying" the use of vinyls; communications via weekly vinyl newsletters, info on designing with vinyl for architects and builders, and so forth; transportation issues for resins and plasticizers; and promotion of water infrastructure, as water pipes use 35% of all PVC. Doyle defined "sustainability" as "meeting the needs of today without compromising the needs of tomorrow." (That's an ideal, which must be compromised in itself with economics, in my opinion.)
  11. Michael Petracco is a resin sales manager for Formosa, Taiwan-based maker of resins and compounds with substantial U.S. operations, especially in Texas. He spoke about the vertical integration of resin makers, both upward and down.
  12. Bill Arendt of Kalama gave the most technical talk of the two days, promoting dibenzoate nonphthalate plasticizers, which are chemically quite different from phthalates, and not just a tweak to get around Prop. 65 (as was DINP until that got listed, too). The dibenzoates are good solvators, resist oil stains well, and may allow greater flexibility. All these materials are currently more expensive than DIOP or DINP, but can be blended with other non-listed plasticizers to reduce costs.
  13. Dave Owen of BASF gave another technical talk, showing the difference between gelation and fusion—gelation happens first. Owen was dealing with emulsion resins for plastisol coatings, but the principles apply to any plasticized PVC.
  14. Ana Gamboa of IHS talked about market developments in PVC raw materials. PVC is made from ethylene (44%), derived from natural gas or petroleum, and chlorine (56%), derived from salt. The ethylene side is seeing lower feed costs because of the U.S. natural-gas boom, which may be prolonged by a possible price war between the now-unsanctioned Iran and the Saudis. The chlorine side depends on markets for the co-product "caustic" (sodium hydroxide = alkali), and right now this is not a problem, as membrane separation cells are replacing mercury-based systems (sodium metal combines well with mercury).
  15. Ron Raleigh (Valerus) reported market conditions for plasticizers.
  16. Kim Holmes of SPI advised us that reports on company sustainability practices are required for SEC filings and maybe others, and that SPI helps members deal with this issue, through the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board.
  17. Katie Masterson of SPI told us about FLiP—Future Leaders in Plastics—a group of under-40s started by SPI to encourage their interaction.
  18. The last talk was the most remarkable of all, although it had little to do with PVC (so far): Art Fisher of Underwriters Labs cited the rapid advances being made by additive manufacturing, computer-programmed 3D depositing of polymeric materials, not just ABS or thermoplastics, but thermosets and other reactives, as well as powdered metals and composites.

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