Securing catalyst innovation and supply

Norner has access to a catalyst manufacturing process on a pilot scale.

To enter any kind of polyolefin production on an industrial scale, the following elements need to be in place:

  • Feedstock (raw materials)
  • Polymerization process technology
  • Production assets
  • Catalyst (or initiator)

The impressive growth of polyolefin production capacities in the 21st century in the Middle East (Gulf countries) and North America illustrated that access to cheap feedstock (shale gas boom) and the growing demand for plastics attracted easily large sums of investment funds. Access to process and catalyst technology was usually obtained through licensing agreements.With the catalyst at the heart of the polymerization, a licensee is thereby uncertain dependent on the licensor and its tolling partners for the supply of this crucial ingredient. What is more, there seems to be a change in licensors’ priorities from licensing the technology to building their own capacity alone or in joint ventures. Consequently, access to the latest catalyst technology enabling the production of High Value Added (HVA) products such as PE100, easy processible mLLDPE or rTPOs is often limited to JVs with the licensors only.However, increasingly new potential suppliers of catalysts are available on a global scale. To overcome the hurdle of qualifying alternative catalyst supply, Norner acts as an independent validation party, bridging the gap between catalyst manufacturers and PO producers. The range of catalysts and polymerization technologies thereby:

  • ZN PE
  • Metallocene PE
  • Chromium PE
  • UHMWPE capable catalyst
  • ZN PP
  • Metallocene PP
  • PE Slurry, uni- and multimodal
  • PE gas phase
  • PE combining slurry and gas phase
  • PE solution
  • PE bulk and gas phase, multi reactor set-up

 It should also be noted that yearly a multitude of patents related to PO metallocene catalysts is being filed. Since 1997 at least 600 (!) have been filed yearly. But with the bulk of patents, especially in metallocene-based polymerization catalysts, already filed at the end of the 20th century, now more than 4000 of these have expired. This opens possibilities for own catalyst developments based on free-for-use complexes. Graph 2 depicts the fast and thorough evaluation of complexes with High Throughput Experimentation at Norner Xplore, a company in the Norner family. Fundamental polymerization parameters such as hydrogen sensitivity, molecular weight capability and comonomer response can be obtained and even more important first pointers towards process fit economy are available through the activity profile (Graph 3) and polymer powder characteristics.

 

Figur 1 Polyolefin Catalyst Market Structure

Graph 1 Patents filled related to metallocene catalysts by application date.

 

To bridge the gap from lab-scale R&D catalyst development to commercial production, Norner has access to a catalyst manufacturing process on a pilot scale. This offers an alternative to the catalyst preparation on a lab scale and allows the preparation of larger (0.5kg) catalyst batches. Thereby polymerization pilot trials can be supported and results transferred back to the commercial catalyst producer of choice. Norner can deliver heterogenization of catalytic chemistry on commercially available (or by own preparation) carriers such as MgCl2 or SiO2 (Figure 2).

 

Figur 2 Metallocene catalyst based on silica carrier characterized by Scanning Electron Microscopy.

 

This opens the possibility for assessing the benefits of alternative carriers in catalyst development. Here Norner can offer the testing either in high-throughput screening mode at Xplore or lab-scale evaluation in semi-continuous mode, with yields up to 3-4 kg, followed by testing of mechanical properties and application performance. Norner is daily mimicking multi-reactor technologies, e.g., for multimodal HDPE or complex advanced heterophasic copolymers of PP.In summary, diversifying the available catalyst toolbox for a polymer producer is no miracle work anymore. Norner can support clients in connecting to 3rd party catalyst producers, speeding up evaluation (qualification) work or developing freedom-to-operate or even new catalysts. The following tools can be used in this process:

  • High Throughput Experimentation at Xplore
  • Pilot scale catalyst preparation up to 0.5kg
  • Catalyst characterization
  • Lab scale evaluation with polymer yield up to 3-4kg
  • Evaluation of material properties
  • Application performance

 

Graph 2 Fast Screening with HTE - here is the molecular weight capability of 28 metallocene catalysts at a defined process condition for PE copolymer.

Graph 3 Comparison of activity profile for silica carrier-based metallocene catalysts (semi-continuous bench scale polymeriszation).

 

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