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Plastics supply: Borealis doubling capacity in Brazil, doubling down on automotive

The polyolefins supplier told PlasticsToday it intends to double its capacity in Brazil, where it runs two plants in a joint venture with Braskem. In other news, the company is investing in personnel and technology to help increase even more the number of polypropylene applications in automotive, including underhood ones.

Borealis executives Harald Hammer and Jost Laumeyer spoke with PlasticsToday last week during the annual Plastics in Automotive Engineering event organized by the Germans engineers' association, the VDI, in Mannheim, Germany. Hammer is VP of the supplier's Mobility business unit; Laumeyer is marketing manager for the same BU.

Hammer said that the Brazilian joint venture, formed in 2001 and 80% owned by Borealis, needs new capacity to meet demands out of many different markets there, including automotive. The supplier has announced a number of expansions in the past years, and one of those, its Borouge 2 plant in the Middle East, recently came online. Borouge is a joint venture between the Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. (ADNOC) and Borealis; the two began building the Borouge 2 plant in late 2007. The companies also have opened a polyolefins compounding facility in Shanghai, China. In Mannheim, Hammer said material from that facility increasingly is being tapped by domestic Chinese carmakers as these increase their use of plastics in passenger cars and trucks. "In Asia, OEMs are moving very quickly to cut weight and reduce CO2 emissions," he added.

In 2009 Borouge announced it would build a Borouge 3 plant, scheduled to come on stream in the fourth quarter of 2013. The Borouge 2 plant brought Borouge's polyethylene capacity from 600,000 tonnes/yr to about 2 million tonnes/yr.

Hammer and Laumeyer spoke mostly about the company's polypropylene, and especially how their company is keen to get PP considered for applications currently dominated by engineering thermoplastic such as polyamide or PC/ABS. "We don't want to play n the (PP) mass market," explained Hammer. "Our strategy is to supply material for engineered polypropylene parts." The company's stand at the Mannheim event included the first air intake manifold (AIM) injection molded of PP, which is now fitted to all 1.4 and 1.6 liter engines on Volkswagen Golf, Seat and Skoda models. Also on stand was a Volkswagen Touareg bumper fascia, molded using Borealis' Daplen VB4411 grade.

Borealis displayed the AIM at the VDI event in 2010 but Laumeyer said it was appropriate to do so again this year. ""The air intake manifold is turning into a global application," he explained. Though most attendees to the VDI event are from the home country's automotive industry, this year saw an increase in the number of North American visitors, and there also were a few from Asia's markets. The conference is translated simultaneously German/English. "We want to replace more underhood parts, both metal ones and other plastics," added Hammer. He said PP's biggest advantage is its low density, which helps carmakers hit their targets for light weighting and the resultant drop in carbon dioxide emissions over a vehicle's life. Another key argument is PP's low cost, which he said remains very competitive despite the run-up in prices in the last 6 months. "For us, PP belongs to the ETP (engineering thermoplastics) family," said Hammer. The supplier is investing €70 million in a line at its facility in Linz, Austria to help it develop new grades more quickly, and also investing in a technical center at its Borouge site in Abu Dhabi. 

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