Pennsylvania Poised to Attract More Plastics Manufacturing

Keystone State boasts everything from NGL assets and new cracker plants to plastics manufacturing and educational/training resources.

Back in March, a new report compiled by Houston-based IHS Markit and sponsored by the Team Pennsylvania Foundation, and the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) forecast significant growth across the plastics industry chain for the Keystone State. Prospect to Enhance Pennsylvania’s Opportunities in Petrochemical Manufacturing, forecasts $2.7 to $3.7 billion in investments in natural gas liquid (NGL) assets in Pennsylvania—along with the opportunity to attract up to four additional cracker plants and petrochemical and plastics manufacturing.

This rosy forecast is partly due to the abundant gas resources available in the Marcellus and Utica Shale reserves, both of which Pennsylvania is ideally positioned upon. By 2030, Marcellus and Utica natural gas production is expected to account for a whopping 40% + of total U.S. production. Moreover, 40% of the natural gas produced is rich in NGLs, more than 70% of which is ethane and propane—two important and high-value NGLs used in basic petrochemical production and plastics manufacturing.

Meanwhile, Western Pennsylvania has garnered major attention in the plastics industry with the announcement of Royal Dutch Shell’s $6-billion ethane cracker in Beaver County. Shell’s new location in Pennsylvania is within 700 miles of 73% of the nation’s PE users—placing them much closer than their competitors.

So, what does that mean for plastics manufacturers? According to the State’s DCED, in addition to feedstock, the Keystone State boasts other competitive advantages that position the industry for success, including an existing plastics manufacturing base, robust transportation infrastructure and two of the nation’s four accredited plastics engineering technology programs.

Penn State Behrend’s School of Engineering offers undergraduate degrees in plastics-specific majors, focusing on the skills and techniques needed to understand the design plastics’ components and products, processing methods and materials. The plastics industry also has access to workforce development programs through the Plastics Training Academy. Hands-on plastics workshops are held in the 10,500-ft2 plastics processing lab—said to the be largest, most comprehensive plastics training lab in the U.S.

The Plastics Innovation and Resource Center (PIRC) at the Penn College of Technology offers services to companies in the plastics industry around the world. Working in partnership with businesses, PRIC offers training and research & development services to plastics processors, resin suppliers, mold builders and equipment manufacturers.