Methyl methacrylate (MMA) is the major building block for a wide range of acrylic applications that are found in industries worldwide including: automotive, construction, retail and electronics. Demand for MMA has grown year-on-year over decades at a rate that is well above global GDP and is currently approximately 3 million tes/annum. There is therefore, a requirement for continuous investment in new monomer capacity and a need for improved and better ways of meeting worldwide demand.
Strong asset base encompassing all MMA technologies
Lucite International together with its parent company – Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation (MCC) and MCHC – can readily support the growth in methacrylates by being present in all global regions. It is also in the enviable position of owning all three MMA technologies, including the long-established ACH and C4 routes and the most recent development of Alpha, first successfully commercialised in 2008. As a result we are able to provide a reliable service to our global customer base, which is particularly important during periods when there are shifts in the availability and cost of raw materials. MRC pioneered the C4 process in the 1970s and has also employed ACH technology to provide a reliable supply to customers for many decades.
More recently, MCC signed a joint venture agreement with SABIC to develop the world’s largest ever MMA facility in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia using our Alpha technology. The plant began commercial operation in 2018. We will continue to invest in Alpha technology, which is highly attractive due to it being based on using readily available raw materials and its economic and environmental credentials.
Lucite International’s robust ACH technology has been the mainstay of our reliable global supply to customers for many years. Process raw materials are acetone, methanol and HCN. HCN can be synthesised as on-purpose production using natural gas and ammonia or as an efficient way of utilising HCN, which is a by-product from the acrylonitrile process.
Over the last 15 years, we have developed a completely new technology route to MMA called Alpha. Alpha is based on readily available raw materials: ethylene, methanol and carbon monoxide. The technology has allowed us to significantly improve our operational costs and removed constraints on plant size, providing the opportunity to reduce capital investment and achieve substantially improved operating economics.
The technology has been the result of extensive and novel research into catalysis and new processes by our own scientists and engineers and has won several prestigious awards. These include:
- Kirkpatrick Award 2009 – 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
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.
MCC is the pioneer of C4 technology, based on isobutylene, for the manufacture of MMA. This production method was first developed for commercial use in the 1970s and MCC has made several successful investments over the recent past to underpin the growth in demand for MMA from its customers.