LyondellBasell bets on new technology, better plastics
By Katherine BluntJune 21, 2018 Updated: June 21, 2018 11:42am

Friday, October 26, 2018

Houston Chronicle report, LyondellBasell is betting millions of dollars that new technology will give it an edge in the burgeoning market for polyethylene, the ubiquitous plastic that has fueled a construction and export boom along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

The Houston petrochemicals manufacturer has built a substantial portion of its $725 million plant in La Porte, a cutting-edge facility with technology designed to produce high-density polyethylene that’s stronger and more durable than its standard commodity counterpart. The plant is expected to begin operations next year to meet growing demand in emerging overseas markets.

The technology, dubbed “Hyperzone,” involves two chemical reactors to process ethylene, a natural gas-derived base material for plastic resins designed for use in pipes, bottles, bags, packaging and a range of other applications. The company says the reactors are designed in a way to allow it to tailor chemical properties to meet customer specifications.

LyondellBasell recently installed the largest of the reactors, a 12-story behemoth custom-made in South Korea and shipped about 11,000 miles to Houston. The company built a new heavy-haul road just to transport the 503-ton reactor to the construction site.

Jim Sheehan, a petrochemicals analyst with SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, said the technology improves processing efficiency and the durability of the finished product. The higher quality of the plastic means LyondellBasell can charge premium prices, he added, giving it some degree of insulation from fluctuations in polyethylene prices.

“It’s differentiated in the market because of its strength,” he said. LyondellBasell says the plastics made with Hyperzone technology are lighter weight and more resistant to cracks. The process is designed to produce stronger, safer pipes and to reduce the amount of material needed to manufacture household products and packaging.

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