Methacrylate Monomers: Innovation

 

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Innovation

Monomers

Going further with Alpha technology

Over the past 15 years, Lucite International has developed Alpha technology, a completely new route to MMA based on readily available raw materials – ethylene, methanol and carbon monoxide. Alpha has removed constraints on plant size, provided us with the opportunity to reduce capital investment and has significantly improved our operating economics.

Award winning recognition

The technology is the result of extensive and novel research into catalysis and new processes by our own scientists and engineers and has achieved recognition through several prestigious awards, including:

  • 2009 Kirkpatrick Chemical Engineering Award – Winner
  • Chemical Industry Association (CIA) 2009 Innovation Award – Winner
  • ICIS Innovations Awards 2009 – Short-listed for Best Product Innovation
  • The Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award 2010 – Finalist

Proving technology with Alpha 1

In 2008, we demonstrated Alpha technology at commercial scale with a 100kte/annum plant in Singapore. It was built on time, to budget and began production significantly above its nameplate capacity. Unlike traditional MMA processes there are no polymer/solids blockage, corrosion, or machine issues or vulnerabilities. Product purity, an absolute market requirement for high margin optical polymers for LED/LCD TV monitors and PDA screens, has consistently been industry leading.

Alpha 2 underway

On 9 June 2011, our parent company, Mitsubishi Rayon Co., Ltd and Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC) announced their intentions to form a joint venture company seeking to invest in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s first MMA and MMA polymer assets. Alpha is the technology of choice for the largest ever MMA plant (250kte/annum), which will benefit from three years of operational learning and will encompass energy saving technology to further enhance its environmental credentials.

Building on the track record of success, we will continue to develop energy efficiency, yield and output improvements, which will be incorporated into future Alpha plants. In this way, Lucite International aims to provide reliable, long-term, sustainable supplies at competitive prices to its global customers.

 

Biotechnology

Sustainable routes to methacrylates

Lucite International is committed to achieving substantial reductions in the environmental footprint of its business. This means lowering our dependence on fossil fuels for raw materials, reducing water consumption and our overall carbon footprint. We are also measuring the carbon footprint of our operations to ensure real improvement is directed and effective.

Key areas of our work include:

  • Developing our new Alpha technology for MMA production and further improving its energy efficiency.
  • Focusing on renewable resources and development of technologies to use in the production of MMA monomers and polymers.
  • Development and implementation of energy and efficiency improvement programs across all of our manufacturing sites.

We believe that by applying a fundamental approach to finding the best environmental routes to methacrylates, we will ensure a long-term sustainable future for the environment, our customers and our other major stakeholders.

Further developing Alpha technology to achieve even greater efficiencies

After 15 years of development work, Lucite International built the first Alpha technology plant based on ethylene instead of acetone as a feedstock in 2008. One of the key drivers for the development of this new route to MMA was to minimise by-product and waste formation thereby achieving attractive process economics and the capability of improved environmental impact.

The first commercial Alpha plant is now in full operation and has impressive manufacturing performance characteristics. While the first Alpha plant has already delivered attractive yields compared to other MMA technologies, we continue to learn more about the potential of this brand new process. Programs to further improve raw material use and significantly reduce energy consumption are well developed. Several of these programs are planned retrofits to our existing Alpha operations. They will also be incorporated into Alpha 2, which is scheduled for operation in 2014.

Focusing on renewable resources

There are a number of potential routes using renewable feedstocks for Lucite International’s global operations and we are working to define the most appropriate options to move the business to a much lower carbon footprint.

Selection of renewable feedstocks

An important factor in the selection of renewable feedstocks is the consideration of resources for food production. Our policy is not to use crops that can be used for food. Instead we will rely on raw materials from domestic, agricultural and industrial waste using, for example, household waste, wheat straw and wood chips. Where suitable land is available, we are also examining the use of specific lignocellulosic crops, such as miscanthus grass or coppiced hardwood trees, which have been developed to produce high yields, with low inputs of fertilizers and water. By using a combination of these feedstocks, we firmly believe that renewables can play a significant part in the future of our methacrylate production.

Potential to source all major raw materials from bio-feedstocks

All of Lucite International’s major raw materials can potentially be made from bio-feedstocks. For example, acetone can be produced from sugars or domestic waste using the ABE process; bio-ethanol can be converted to make bio-ethylene, and bio-methanol can be made from bio-gas or gasification of domestic waste. We are currently working with a number of companies to investigate the feasibility of acetone production in this way and plan to evaluate the introduction of bio-methanol and bio-ethylene into our MMA manufacturing operations.

Direct conversion of renewable feedstocks to our main products

Our ultimate goal is to convert renewable feedstocks directly into our main products using completely new, white biotechnology processes. To achieve this, we are addressing the many technological challenges in designing complex new biochemical routes using completely novel biochemistry. Most importantly for large-scale manufacture, the fermentation process must be able to deliver high concentrations of the product at acceptable output rates. These last two factors play a major role in defining both the physical size of the plant (and hence resources) and the energy required to achieve a pure chemical product.

Programs of work

Lucite International is actively addressing these issues via a multi-stage program with a number of commercial research organisations and partner universities in Europe with the objective of identifying the best biochemistry and manufacturing routes on an environmental basis.

Our current programs incorporate:

  • Selection of renewable feedstocks and conversion to soluble carbohydrate
  • Production of a number of different chemical intermediates by fermentation
  • Conversion of these to methacrylates
  • Direct production of methacrylates by fermentation.

We believe that by working to improve our existing operations and finding the best environmental new routes to methacrylates, we can build a sustainable future for the environment, our customers and other major stakeholders.

 

Materials

Polymer

The core technology platforms we use for new product development are based on fundamental chemistry and materials science expertise built up over many years. We work closely with our customers and development partners to access emerging application areas and to translate industry challenges into products with performance attributes that add real commercial value.

Our current polymer innovation programs include work with:

  • Tailoring property balance and processing characteristics to optimize performance and processing efficiency for individual application sectors
  • Management of light performance to produce efficient solutions for use with both conventional and new lighting technologies such as LEDs
  • Functional co-extruded surface coatings for architectural profiles, appliances and industrial sheet products
  • Colour and aesthetics control, enabling bespoke effects in all of our application sectors
  • Impact modifiers to offer a complete range of mechanical performance in balance with demanding optical requirements

Resins

Almost all innovation under the resins umbrella is carried out in collaborative projects with single customers under confidentiality agreements. Our current programs include development of:

  • Lucite(R) polymer bead resins with improved processability and optical performance for use in casting and embedment applications, such as aquarium panels
  • Colacryl(R) bead resins tailored to meet next generation dental and bone cement performance requirements
  • Elvacite(R) functionalized co-polymers for enhanced performance in inks, coatings and adhesives applications and to meet the challenges of future application and environmental needs

Cast sheet

Whether it is by building on existing performance characteristics or solving customers’ technical challenges our innovation programs continue to deliver enhanced cast sheet products to meet customer needs.

Our technology development platforms include:

  • Custom colors and effects, particularly for use in design-conscious retail and architectural sectors such as corporate imaging, advertising, furniture and spas
  • Light management systems that allow creative use of colour, optimising optical performance in both reflected and transmitted light, to provide leading edge solutions for conventional and LED based systems in signage, lighting panels and custom displays
  • Using the unique characteristics of the cell cast process to create a range of surface effects and finishes
  • Exploiting our batch process to tailor performance characteristics precisely to customer requirements, delivering effects such as antibacterial protection or high UV resistance
  • Product enhancements that allow our customers to meet future challenges of their own production efficiency and environmental impact.

Composites

Acrylic composites offer design opportunities for many different household items where the material’s colours, effects and performance characteristics can be used to create trend-setting solutions.

Our product development programs include:

  • Delivering materials with long-lasting performance in service with exposure to harsh conditions including extreme temperatures, thermal cycling, staining and chemicals
  • Formulations enabling our customers to mould ever more complex shapes, in faster times, to meet their own emerging market and business needs.

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