Senior Editor Lilli Sherman’s feature this month on “The New Polypropylenes” is not only chock-full of new product developments—it also gives some insight into the industry that makes the largest-selling resin in the U.S. In researching the article, Lilli was struck by the cornucopia of new products, catalysts, and polymerization technologies that PP producers have come up with during the past two years of declining returns from the business. Unlike resin suppliers a couple of decades ago, PP producers did not pinch off the flow of innovation, despite massive overcapacity, declining prices, and escalating feedstock and energy costs. As a result, suppliers and their customers are coming out of this recession with exciting new tools to expand their businesses. For example, PP is prying open non-traditional applications such as large-part thermoforming and extrusion blow molding of large water bottles and handleware for detergent and bleach bottles.
Technologically speaking, PP resin suppliers are better positioned than ever to develop new resins. Lilli is impressed that most suppliers have multiple processes available—through mergers or licensing—so they can pick and choose the best route to their goals. Technology-sharing agreements, like the metallocene cooperation between Basell and ExxonMobil, should also be powerful engines for innovation.
Lilli picked up plenty of hints that there are dramatic new developments in the pipeline. Using metallocenes, suppliers are working on acoustically absorbent foam materials, ultra-high-flow homopolymers, and bimodal grades. Also look for mPP resins with higher melting points than any yet seen, aimed at film, fiber, and thin-wall injection molding. And keep your eyes open for a family of mPP copolymers that remain tough well below freezing temperatures.