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Second supplier could raise height of PEEK market

Specialty chemicals supplier Degussa (Düsseldorf, Germany) says its 80:20 joint venture (signed in June 2005) with the University of Jilin in China could spell new prospects for the market for high-temperature specialty thermoplastic polyetheretherketone (PEEK). To now the supply of PEEK can be traced almost exclusively to Victrex (Cleveleys, England); Degussa''s Joachim Leluschko, head of Degussa''s high performance polymers (HPP) business, says Victrex controls at least 98% of the PEEK market.

Speaking at a press conference July 4 near Darmstadt, Germany, Leluschko said the JIDA Degussa joint venture was awaiting final Chinese government approval but that no problems were expected. The JV will own any patents, a major point, since Chinese universities are usually expected to share information. That could have exposed Degussa if a potential competitor struck a venture with a different university. "All rights for new developments are automatically assigned to [Degussa]," he explained.

Leluschko said that China developed its own supply of PEEK during the 1980s because at that time the country was on an embargo list that included PEEK, which can be used in rockets and military hardware. "We already know what we have to do to bring our material up to what the market requires," he said. "For some applications, we''ll be ready very quickly, but medical and aeronautical ones will take longer [to get approval]," he said. Degussa plans to market the material globally.

Processing of PEEK is a relatively small market, estimated at about 1850 tonnes/yr, or about €130 million in sales, said Leluschko. Electronics (wafers, connectors) are the largest application though the material sees use in transportation applications, industrial ones, and medical components, among others. JIDA Degussa will rapidly be a power player, bringing about 500 tonnes/yr capacity to bear immediately. It will also produce about 300 tonnes/yr of PES (polyether sulfone), Degussa''s first supply of this specialty thermoplastic.

Leluschko predicts demand growth for PEEK will be driven by aeronautics and automotive applications; the University in Jilin is in a city of 6 million inhabitants and is very near manufacturing sites of carmakers Audi and BMW. "The Chinese there are great chemists, and we have the process engineering and marketing experience," he said.-Matthew Defosse; [email protected]

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