Could the petrochemicals boom lead to a shortage in plastics additives?

Total global manufacturing capacity for polyolefins is expected to increase by 45 million tons by 2022, according to the 2018 World Petrochemical Conference, and much of that growth will be driven by the United States. For Baerlocher USA (Cincinnati, OH), a supplier of plastics additives, that translates into an estimated 20% higher demand for its products. Combine that with restrictions placed on some traditional additive chemistries in Europe, and you have the outlines of a great business opportunity, one that Baerlocher USA saw coming early on.

Baeropol DRS 6812 RST
Baeropol DRS 6812 SP is a drop-in replacement for phosphite stabilizers used with polyolefins and other thermoplastics.

“In 2015, we identified areas where we thought North American supply might not be able to keep up with demand, so we started investing,” Ed Hall, President and CEO of Baerlocher North America, told PlasticsToday. “Last year, for example, we invested in a reactor to increase capacity for metal soaps at our Cincinnati facility.” Calcium, zinc, sodium and other metal soaps are used as acid scavengers, stabilizers, internal and external lubricants, water repellants and mold release agents.

When I spoke with Hall at NPE2018 in Orlando, FL, he also mentioned that he was waiting on approval for another “large investment” to keep up with projected growth in polyolefins. As of this writing, however, I have not seen anything pop up in my newsfeed.

At NPE2018, Baerlocher introduced Baeropol DRS 6812 SP, a drop-in replacement for phosphite stabilizers used with polyolefins and other thermoplastics. The additive, which is part of the Baeropol resin stabilization technology platform, features improved hydrolytic stability and polymer solubility compared with traditional phosphates.

Luxury vinyl tile market steps up

Opportunity also came knocking for Baerlocher in the form of luxury vinyl tile (LVT), a market that is poised for significant growth, according to Hall. “[LVT manufacturers] Tarkett is investing $60 million in its factories in Alabama, and Shaw has spent something like $300 million to convert a carpeting plant to an LVT facility,” said Hall. 

Baerlocher recently developed a stabilization chemistry for the wear layer of rigid LVT designed to address the flooring industry’s safety and sustainability goals. The new Baeropol technology uses calcium- and zinc-based stabilizers that are individually formulated for each layer of LVT. They deliver thermal stability, reduced yellowing and increased clarity compared with conventional technologies.

The company’s formulation experts also work closely with LVT manufacturers to develop custom solutions. Baerlocher helped the first U.S. manufacturer of rigid LVT by creating a stabilization technology for the new rigid core product. It met the customer’s requirements for sustainability (no barium) and odor elimination (no tin). The startup successfully entered the U.S. LVT market with a first-of-its-kind product manufactured in North America, said Baerlocher.

Also on the PVC front, the “United States is one of the few places globally that substantially uses tin stabilizers for rigid profiles like windows,” said Hall. “Europe has gotten out of tin to comply with REACH regulations, and, while that does not apply to North America, customers are starting to say that they want to get out of tin, too. It’s becoming a bit of a dirty word. We don’t necessarily agree that it should be a dirty word, but we sell calcium and zinc stabilizers, so that’s a good trend for us,” said Hall.

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