The Chinese government wants to transform China into a world manufacturing power, according to the ten-year national plan “Made in China 2025”.1 The plan includes strengthening Chinese robot suppliers and further increasing their market shares in China and abroad. China intends to forge ahead and make it into the world's top 10 most intensively automated nations by 2020.
The consumption and production of engineering plastics are other key indicators of any advanced economy and the Chinese economy is developing to a point where it is not only a key consumer of engineering plastics, but a notable manufacturer as well.
The indigenous Chinese manufacture of traditional engineering plastics is building. Liaoning Bora Petrochemical Company is licensing LyondellBasell's polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene (PE) HDPE technologies for three new plants in its new petrochemical complex.2 LyondellBasell is a leading licensor of polypropylene and polyethylene technologies with more than 250 polyolefin process licenses.
There has been considerable reorganisation over the years in European and global polymer manufacturing. Basell's heritage comes from many former giants in the polymer manufacturing business, including BASF (Germany), Hoechst (Germany), ICI (UK), Montecatini (Italy), Montedison (Italy) and Royal Dutch Shell (Netherlands). However Basell, and then later LyondellBasell, had its origin in a joint venture between BASF and Royal Dutch Shell.
The new plants will be constructed in its new petrochemical complex in Panjin, Liaoning Province, China. The complex will include two polypropylene units with a combined annual capacity of 600,000 tonnes using the Spherizone and Spheripol PP process technologies.
The polypropylene plants will be complemented with a 350,000 tonnes/per year high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plant operating on the Hostalen Advanced Cascade Process (ACP) Technology. Hostalen ACP is also to be used for a 400,000 tonnes HDPE unit to be built in the Hengli Petrochemical Industrial Park (HPIP) on Changxing Island in Dalian, Liaoning Province, China.
The Spheripol process, currently the most widely used polyolefins process technology, was first introduced by predecessor company Montedison. There are more than 22 million tonnes of licensed capacity. The breakthrough Spherizone multi-zone circulating reactor provides a unique and innovative platform with flexible operating conditions to manufacture polypropylene grades with novel architecture and enhanced properties.
Hostalen ACP was first commercialised by the German company Hoechst in 1975. This high-density polyethylene (HDPE) process technology is used to produce high-performance HDPE products exhibiting desirable combinations of stiffness/toughness, impact resistance, high stress-cracking resistance, together with processing advantages for film, blow moulding and pipe applications.
“…LyondellBasell offers differentiating processes that enable our customers in this region to remain competitive and responsive to market dynamics,” said Dan Coombs, Executive Vice President Global Manufacturing, Refining, Projects and Technology at LyondellBasell. “We are pleased that new petrochemical facilities in Asia are selecting our technologies to distinguish themselves in their respective markets.”2
With a developing economy comes responsibilities on the environmental scale and something of a green revolution is taking place. For example, China has decided to develop and implement carbon capture and storage (CCS) on a massive scale. The process of capturing carbon can however lead to the formation of carcinogenic chemicals, but Chinese researchers are collaborating with Norwegian colleagues in order to overcome this problem.3
The leading Chinese research groups in the field of CCS are going to collaborate with the University of Oslo institute and the Norwegian Technology Centre Mongstad (TCM), which is the world's largest facility for testing and developing CO2 capture technologies. The motivation is that the Norwegian researchers have an expertise the Chinese are missing themselves.
According to GCiS China Strategic Research,4 135,000 tons of bio-plastics were sold in the China market in 2016. Largely driven by regulatory mandates in environmental protection, the bio-plastics market is expected to continue growing over the next five years.
Following the State Council’s order to limit plastic shopping bags in 2007, the Jilin and Jiangsu provinces have gone further to implement a ‘No Plastics Order’ in 2015 and 2017 respectively. The latter order bans the production and sale of disposable plastic bags or tableware made using non-biodegradable materials. Local Jilin officials are also made accountable as their annual performance review will incorporate performance indicators related to the implementation of the order.
While it is clear that the Chinese government is embarking on a green revolution across all sectors and industries, it is difficult to determine whether the policy will be lasting enough for this industry to achieve its environmental mandates. Unlike areas like the phasing out of hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFC), where there are clear phase out targets, there are no such performance targets when it comes to the biodegradable plastics sector.
In Jilin province, a ban on non-biodegradable plastics is a way to kill two birds with one stone. Prompted by a massive corn glut in recent years, the Jilin government was faced with an oversupply of aged corn that is unpalatable for consumption. By converting the unused corn into xylitol and corn starch, they can be diverted to the local bio-plastics sector for the production of biodegradable plastics.
According to GCiS, China’s bio-plastics industry is valued at close to RMB 2.5 billion of domestic sales revenues in 2016, up 13 percent from 2015. Since 2013, government funding has been flowing into the sector, to help support key domestic enterprises and develop industry bases in different parts of the country. This is part of a broader industrial policy at developing bio-plastics, amongst many others, into one of the country’s strategic new materials.
China’s bio-plastics industry is dominated by three main types of products, partially degradable plastarch material (PSM), polybutyrate (PBAT) and polylactide (PLA) – each with roughly equal market shares by revenue.
Overall, only 13 percent of companies in this sector are foreign while the rest are predominantly Chinese. Despite this, foreign companies captured around 25 percent of the total market share by revenues, mainly because of their better-quality products and premium pricing strategy.
Polysulfone in respirator
As an example of a foreign operative, Solvay Plastics operates Specialty Polymers and Engineering Plastics business units in China to support the distribution of its products in China and other local markets.
“With a stronger than ever focus on local needs in China, we are determined to capture the opportunities arising for our Chinese customers from the recently adopted ‘Made in China 2025’ roadmap, designed to establish the country as the world’s foremost industrial super power through innovation, quality and efficiency,” says Dr Luke Du, managing director Solvay Asia. “The plastics industry in China is making enormous efforts to catch up and take the lead in various important fields.”5
Solvay's biocompatible Udel® P-1700 polysulfone (PSU) is being distributed via China to MTTS in Hanoi, Vietnam, for its Dolphin Bubble CPAP machine, which combines the latest in respiratory care with exceptional value. CPAP therapy – for continuous positive airway pressure – maintains open airways for pre-term and low-birth weight newborns who breathe spontaneously but often inadequately. Offering a sterilisable alternative to disposable polymer parts, Solvay’s Udel PSU forms two injection-molded components of MTTS’s machine: the humidifier housing and the system’s positive end-expiratory pressure (PEEP) chamber.6
“MTTS was established in 2004 with the goal of delivering innovative, cost-effective solutions for newborns in need of intensive medical care,” said Gregory Dajer, director of MTTS. “In designing our Dolphin CPAP system, we aimed to innovate a complete, non-invasive solution that was also more cost-efficient due to its integrated design and replacement of consumable components with reusable parts.”
Bubble CPAP machines maintain pressure in the breathing circuit by immersing the distal end of the expiratory tubing in water. As the gas flows through the system, it “bubbles” out and prevents build-up of excess pressure. With funding help from The Wellcome Trust, a biomedical research charity based in London, MTTS built its Dolphin machine for comfort, reliability and ease of use. Its integrated design encompasses gas mixing, humidification, PEEP chamber, air compressor and pulse-oximeter in one compact unit. The PEEP chamber primarily improves oxygenation by increasing functional residual capacity and helps to improve lung compliance and decrease the work of breathing.
Udel P-1700 PSU is a medical-grade, biocompatible polymer that maintains high-strength and toughness after repeated exposure to up to 100 autoclave sterilisation cycles. The material is highly resistant to harsh chemical disinfectants commonly used in the healthcare industry, such as sodium hypochlorite bleach and 2.4 percent glutaraldehyde solution. It offers higher heat resistance and better hydrolytic stability than polycarbonate and exhibits low creep under sustained loads at elevated temperatures.
- The State Council, The People’s Republic of China: Made in China 2025
- Liaoning Bora Petrochemical Company Selects LyondellBasell’s World-Class PP and HDPE Technologies for Chinese Petrochemical Complex
- China goes all in for CCS with Norwegian partners
- GCiS: Assessment of China’s Market for Biodegradable Plastics
- Solvay at Chinaplas 2016: An Array of Advanced Polymer Solutions to Serve China’s Roadmap for Sustainable Growth
- Solvay’s Udel® P-1700 PSU enables MTTS Company to innovate an integrated, cost-efficient Bubble CPAP machine to aid breathing of low birthweight infants
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