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October 20, 2006

4 Min Read
Solvay reorganizes Advanced Polymers unit, adds PEEK to portfolio

Alpharetta, GA - Rounding out one of the few remaining gaps in its portfolio, high-performance plastics supplier Solvay Advanced Polymers (SAP; Alpharetta, GA) will now offer PEEK (polyetheretherketone), using industry standard nucleophilic chemistry as part of a newly reorganized family of what it’s calling Ultra Performance polymers. Branded SolvaSpire and including polyamideimide (PAI), high-temperature sulfones (HTS), self-reinforcing polymer (SRP) technology acquired from Mississippi Polymer Technology (MPT; Bay St. Louis, MS), and now PEEK, the new family offers a range of amorphous and semi-crystalline materials culled from existing and brand-new resins that feature robust mechanical properties and high levels of heat, chemical, and flame resistance.

“We’re seeing demand for higher and higher performing materials,” SAP President and CEO Roger Kearns told assembled journalists in a mid-October press conference at the company’s headquarters in Alpharetta, GA. “The three-tier pyramid [commodity, engineering, and high-performance polymers] is being stretched.”

SAP hopes to stretch it further, with final engineering complete and ground breaking imminent for an expansion of its site in Panoli, India, which it acquired with its May 2006 purchase of Gharda Chemical’s polymers business. That approximately 60-acre location, which is only half full, will soon include a 500-tonnes/yr PEEK production unit scheduled to come online in Q1 2008 and capable of being doubled to 1000-tonnes/yr capacity, depending on market demand. In the interim, SAP will supply its new filled and neat KetaSpire PEEK and AvaSpire modified PEEK from a semi-commercial production site in Alpharetta, for which it won’t disclose capacity or capital investment.

While hardly as crowded as some other plastic’s ranks, the field of PEEK suppliers and supply has expanded recently, as market leader Victrex doubled its production of the material to 2800 tonnes in the last year, with the addition of a new 1450-tonne plant at its main site in Lancashire, England (MPW November 2005 First Look); and chemicals and specialty polymers supplier Degussa (Düsseldorf, Germany) purchased polyaryletherketone (PAEK) technology from Ticona (Florence, KY) and launched its Jilin University’s (Changchun, China) joint-venture—JIDA High Performance Materials—which will produce and research PEEK. Initial plans called for 500-tonnes/yr line in China (MPW February 2005 First Look; e-Weekly July 22, 2006).

SAP is positioning its KetaSpire materials, which will launch with eight grades (four neat, two 30% glass filled, two 30% carbon filled), as a drop-in replacement for Victrex materials, reporting similar performance and anticipated cost. However, its AvaSpire line, which will launch with five grades, is intended to fill “price-performance” gaps that exist where standard PEEK might be over engineered, and these materials can offer adequate performance at a cost reduction of 15% in some instances. The company says heat deflection and toughness/impact of AvaSpire are higher than PEEK, with comparable stiffness and melt processability, and only slightly more shrinkage and reduced chemical resistance.

Solvay has also invested in the Parmax (November 2003 MPW) self-reinforcing polymer (SRP) it acquired with its purchase of Mississippi Polymer Technology (MPT; Bay St. Louis, MS) on Jan. 10, 2006 (e-Weekly January 9-13, 2006), offering two grades under the PrimoSpire brand name, including a new injection molding version. The company has 52 patents for the amorphous thermoplastic rigid-rod polymer, which is a substituted 1,4 polyphenylene based on carbon-carbon-aryl bonds. David Thomas, R&D chemist for SAP, who came to the company with MPT, called the material “the world’s stiffest unreinforced thermoplastic”, adding that it exhibits inherent flame resistance and ablative properties and is comparable to some metals in hardness and scratch resistance. PR-120 will be offered for extrusion and compression molding, with the new “kinked rod” PR-250 supplied for injection molding and thin films. The amorphous films are nearly transparent. On Sept. 23, 2004, MPT entered into a partnership with semi-finished plastics distributor Ensinger GmbH (Nufringen, Germany) to create stock shapes of its Parmax SRP under the trade name Tecamax, since the material’s dimensional tolerance of .001-inch loans itself to machining.

Chris Wilson, business director for the new SAP Ultra Performance Polymers unit, says there are two to three applications currently “in the pipeline for the material,” including medical, aerospace, and semiconductor manufacturing products, which might launch by the end of the year. Calling it the “first really new class of polymers in 15 years” and admitting that the material’s properties put it in “uncharted territory” with stiffness 60-100% greater than unfilled PEEK, SAP officials estimated PrimoSpire’s cost might be $60-$100/lb.

SAP officials also hinted that the other SolvaSpire materials, which include original Solvay product Torlon PAI, and EpiSpire, which combines Solvay’s long-standing Radel polyethersulfone (PES) and newly acquired Gafone PES from Gharda, into a new high-temperature sulfone with 50°C higher thermal performance, will have their own announcements in the new year.

SAP is a business of Solvay Plastics, which generated 2005 sales of approximately €3.4 billion, of which SAP generated roughly one-third. Other plastics units include Solexis fluoropolymers, polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC), polyvinyl chloride, thermoplastic polyolefins (TPO), and processed product joint ventures in fuel systems (Inergy, a joint venture with Plastic Omnium) and pipes and fittings.—Tony Deligio; [email protected]

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