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Bayer Dedicates World's First Continuous Production Polyol Facility at It's Channelview, Texas, Site

Bayer MaterialScience AG : 21 February, 2001  (Company News)
Bayer Corporation today dedicated the world's first facility that produces polyether polyols, a polyurethane raw material, in a continuous process.
To achieve this benchmark in the polyurethane industry, Bayer's Polyurethanes Division converted a reactor at its Channelview, Texas, site to operate the company's proprietary IMPACT catalyst technology in a continuous production process.

Bayer's Polyurethanes Division also announced it is marketing IMPACT polyol products from this facility to U.S. producers of flexible polyurethane foam used in cushions for furniture and bedding. Several major U.S. producers converted from conventional polyether polyols to the new IMPACT polyol at the beginning of this year to take advantage of the product's superior uniformity and other benefits.

The conversion to IMPACT technology in a continuous production process nearly doubled the annual polyol production capacity at the Channelview, facility, which is located southeast of Houston. As a result, Bayer's annual polyol production capacity in the United States is more than 500 million pounds. Bayer forecasts global consumption of polyols will grow approximately 4.5 percent annually over the next few years.

'Acquisition of the patent-protected IMPACT catalyst technology was a key factor in Bayer's $2.5 billion purchase of Lyondell Chemical Company's global polyols business last April,' said Lawrence D. Stern, Executive Vice President of Bayer Corporation and President, Polyurethanes for NAFTA. 'Converting to a continuous production process using IMPACT technology involved a complex, coordinated effort that included Bayer's research, technology and manufacturing, supply chain and marketing groups ? literally hundreds of individuals.'

Two other Bayer polyol facilities already use IMPACT catalyst technology to produce polyols via batch processes. Those facilities are located in the Kanawha Valley of West Virginia and Reime, Belgium.

The Impact of IMPACT

IMPACT catalyst technology is an advanced production process for manufacturing long-chain polyether polyols. The force behind the technology is a double-metal catalyst that is approximately 1,000 times more active in accelerating the polyol reaction than the industry's current standard ? potassium hydroxide (KOH), according to Mark Morrison, Vice President of Bayer's Global Polyol Technology Center. 'The IMPACT catalyst's accelerated reaction rate consumes raw materials significantly faster than other processes. One result is that IMPACT technology produces fewer impurities than other processes, which use additional processing steps to remove those impurities. This allows us to produce polyols in an efficient, continuous process,' he explained.

IMPACT technology produces high-performance polyol products with superior physical and processing characteristics for use in flexible polyurethane foam processing and for coatings, adhesives, sealants and elastomers (CASE) applications. The benefits of IMPACT polyols include the following:

Industry-leading product uniformity. IMPACT polyols are remarkably consistent in molecular weight and other properties. With the uniformity of IMPACT polyols, customers can improve their polyurethane processing efficiency and the uniformity of their products.

The ability to produce polyols of precisely controlled functionality and molecular weight.

Low residual volatile organic compounds (VOCs). IMPACT polyols reduce the potential for VOCs released during the foam production process, an important benefit to flexible foam producers striving to reduce emissions at their facilities.

'Polyols produced using IMPACT technology in a continuous process are a technological leap for flexible foam producers and their polyurethane products,' said Stern. 'We felt compelled to bring the first of these remarkable products to our customers as soon as possible, even though our capital expansion initiatives are currently under pressure due to sharply increased costs for raw materials and energy.'

Polyols produced using IMPACT technology were first introduced to the market in 1996, according to Gary Allen, Bayer's Vice President of Global Polyurethane Specialties Research. 'This technology brought two important benefits to the polyurethane industry: polyols with extremely low levels of impurities and polyols of much higher molecular weight than were previously available. Using this new class of polyurethane raw materials, it is now possible to produce elastomeric materials which are both soft and tough, without the use of plasticizers,' Allen explained.

These polyols, marketed under the tradename Acclaim™, are already widely used in CASE applications ranging from clear elastomers for in-line skate and scooter wheels to high- performanceadhesives and construction sealants to cushioning materials for athletic footwear, Allen said. Bayer, in cooperation with its customers, continues to explore a variety of new applications for these polyols. Acclaim polyols are produced both in the United States and in Europe.

Impact on Environment and Safety

IMPACT catalyst technology also will greatly reduce waste generation and enhance the safe operation of the Channelview facility.

Because the IMPACT catalyst technology produces fewer impurities than other technologies, waste from the polyol production process is reduced dramatically. In fact, almost no waste requiring disposal is generated in the production of IMPACT polyols.

Plant safety is enhanced because the accelerated polyol reaction rate prevents the accumulation of raw materials inside the reactor, and the reaction can be more reliably controlled. As a result, it is possible to minimize the potential for an uncontrolled reaction and an excessive rise in temperature, conditions that can be dangerous. These same factors also can limit thermal damage to the polyol product in the reactor.
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