If there’s one thing plastic processors cannot get enough of right now, it could be Vistamaxx, a propylene-based elastomer from ExxonMobil Chemical used in a variety of applications ranging from diapers to waterproofing membranes. This situation will be resolved come mid-2023, when the company’s new 400,000-tonnes/year production asset is slated for commercial startup in Baytown, TX.
In a wide-ranging interview with PlasticsToday, Olivier Lorge, Global Market Manager, Polypropylene, Vistamaxx and Adhesives (PVA), ExxonMobil Chemical, said polypropylene (PP) rigid packaging had emerged as the largest market by volume for Vistamaxx, where it functions to improve impact strength, enhance processability, and eliminate stress whitening in injection-molded containers, for example. Vistamaxx can also be used as a property enhancer for PP thermoformed cups and blow-molded high-density polyethylene (HDPE) bottles.
ExxonMobil Chemical is also leveraging Vistamaxx’s properties in the hygiene field, where it was first applied to increase the softness and loftness of the nonwoven spunbond component of diapers but is now also widely used in elastic films for waistbands and stretch airs, and in hygiene hot-melt adhesive formulations. The new plant in Baytown is better suited than existing assets to the production of low-viscosity grades used in these applications, said Lorge.
Another leading market driver is stretch film, where Vistamaxx can create toughness and cling. “When you want to stretch to a very high load, the solution will be based on Vistamaxx,” said Lorge. Sealant film also continues to be a mainstay application for Vistamaxx.
In terms of emerging markets, the building & construction sector’s push toward sustainability and recyclability could prove to be a bonanza for Vistamaxx. “It started years ago in carpet backing and in waterproofing membranes, where Vistamaxx replaced PVC or bitumen, enabling brand-owners to develop a recyclable solution,” said Lorge. “The third application that we are now targeting in the construction business from a sustainable standpoint is luxury vinyl tiles,” he adds.
ExxonMobil Chemical has also shown that Vistamaxx works well as a compatibilizer for co-mingled streams of polyethylene and polypropylene, while simultaneously functioning to improve flow properties and toughness. “We have had success in projects in Chile, Brazil and Norway, and we are currently working on a project to increase recycled content in PE and PP bottles.”
While doubling of Vistamaxx capacity in one fell swoop represents a big jump, all three of ExxonMobil Chemical’s production assets in Baton Rouge, Singapore, and Baytown are also capable of producing ethylene-based Exact elastomer and plastomers, giving the supplier the flexibility to chase demand in both markets. Further, Lorge notes that ExxonMobil has “more ideas than we have capacity for Vistamaxx. I could give you 10 new ideas, but a lot of the development work remains confidential.” Perhaps the best is yet to come for Vistamaxx.