Pet Resin Manufacturing: Improvements Create Efficiencies

A new process that has the potential to significantly reduce the cost of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is being put into place by resin supplier Eastman Chemical Co.
The new PET process, called IntegRex, is being installed at Eastman’s resin plant in South Carolina. Construction will start early next year, and the plant will go online with the new process in 2006, says Peter Esbach, spokesperson for Eastman.
“IntegRex is a major innovation in paraxylene-to-PET production technology,” Eastman Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Brian Ferguson said in a statement. “Building on our established strength in chemical process innovation and our recognized excellence in polyester technology, Eastman has developed a technology that we believe will set us apart as the leader in the manufacture of PET resin.”
Paraxylene is a particular isomer (atomic arrangement) of xylene, a hydrocarbon produced from naphtha. In the PET production process, paraxylene becomes terephthalic acid, which is then reacted with ethylene glycol to become PET.
Eastman declined to specify what the process improvements consist of. The company expects to receive more than 100 patents on the new process, which will form the basis of a 350,000-metric-ton integrated PET manufacturing facility at the Columbia site. The $100 million investment will comprise a new manufacturing facility and supporting infrastructure and intermediate raw material conversion retrofits at the Voridian Columbia plant near Columbia, S.C.
PET, the highest-volume packaging resin in North America, has been subject to price pressures because of increases in the price of natural gas, which is used to make most of the naphtha that becomes paraxylene. The purpose of IntegRex is to increase the efficiency of the paraxylene-to-PET process, bringing down the price. However, Esbach says it’s too soon to estimate just how much the savings will be, noting that the PET market is subject to many variables.
“You’re talking about the end of ’06 to ’07, and I don’t think anyone wants to get into a discussion of what prices will be three years out,” he says.
For the immediate future, Eastman plans to concentrate on installing IntegRex at the Columbia plant, Esbach says. The company has not made any decisions at this time about licensing the technology, nor about instituting it at other Eastman facilities.
“But if global or regional demand for PET was such that we have to build another plant, we wouldn’t use the old technology,” Esbach says.
It’s not possible to take a conventional PET plant and convert it to IntegRex, but it is possible to use aspects of IntegRex to make existing PET plants more efficient, Esbach says.
Eastman cited estimates from industry experts that rising demand for PET—for bottled water, niche soft drinks and other uses—will require additional capacity in North America by 2006. BI