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K 2013: Ascend - a nylon producer in ascendance

Düsseldorf -Houston-based Ascend Performance Materials, the world's largest producer of nylon 6.6 resins, is "extremely happy" with the shale gas boom. Scott Rook, Vice President of plastics for Ascend Performance Materials, explained why at the Ascend K conference today.

"As a fully integrated PA 6.6 producer, we also produce ADN (adiponitrile), a key intermediate chemical. We use unique propylene-based technology rather than the more commonly used butadiene-based approach. Shale gas is a rich source of propane gas that can be converted into propylene. The technology used for this conversion is called PDH (propane dehydrogenation) and there are several new investments being announced around the world."

According to Ascend, propylene offers a long-term advantage. "With the supply issues around butadiene, and the problems with price volatility, we think that being an integrated supplier based on propylene is a good choice - for customers as well," said Rook. "Shale gas is having a major impact on the American economy. The United States is projected to produce more natural gas by 2015 than Russia, and may well be producing more oil than Saudi Arabia by 2017." He added: "The increased propylene supply will lead to lower and more stable prices."

The company also benefitted from last year's nylon 12 production outage following the explosion at Evonik Industries AG's Marl factory. "When OEM's around the world ran out of one of their key materials, they started looking around at other possibilities. We're getting quite a lot more interest from the automotive industry," said Rook. "Opportunities are opening up."

As part of its strategy to become a global plastics company, Ascend has tripled its capacity since 2005, investing heavily in terms of capital, technology and people. This was futher underscored by the company's announcement of the start of an additional compounding line in Pensacola, Florida. "We're adding another 30 kT per year compounding capacity with the new line," said Rook. "The new capacity is primarily focused on higher volume products - glass fiber reinforced compounds. We have another 50 kT production site in  Foley, Alabama, where we produce specialty - impact modifed, flame retardant - grades."

As a fully integrated nylon 6.6 producer, Ascend, said Rook, offers advantages in terms of cleanliness and consistence of quality: innovative approach to deliver class-leading consistency, cleanliness, and performance. Distance, he said, is not always a friend. Locating the compounding facilities next to the polymerization operations preserves the purity "plus we have our proprietary processes that ensure the consistency of the quality and the cleanliness of our products," he said.

At K, Ascend is showcasing the new automotive grades with enhanced thermal resistance for radiator end tanks, charge air coolers (intercoolers), fans and shrouds, under-hood connectors and other applications. Also on display is a new class of impact- and weather-resistant grades designed specifically for cable tie manufacturers who service the transportation, heavy equipment or industrial markets. The company is also offering an improved specialty high-viscosity grade for improved extrusion process efficiency and esthetics in packaging. 

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