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Innovation and Technology Center team members: creating new plastic resins while paying special attention to sustainable solutions

Innovation and Technology Center member

written by Luciana Móglia photo by Ricardo Chaves

Productos y servicios diferenciados: prioridad en Braskem en su búsqueda por el aumento de la competitividad.

“Because we are working in a highly competitive global marketplace where innovation is a key factor for success, we must be very focused on providing outstanding products, developing new applications for our clients and the continued pursuit of cost competitiveness so that we are our client’s choice due to excellence in products and services,” observes Patrick Teyssonneyre, Director of Innovation and Technology at the Braskem Polymers Business Unit (UNPOL). In 2010, UNPOL’S Innovation and Technology teams launched 41 projects, representing USD 180 million in potential returns in five years. Expectations are that in 2011 they will launch about 80 projects with a potential return of USD 290 million.

At Braskem, innovation serves the client’s best interests. In practice, this means that the company’s innovation and technology laboratories and pilot plants are always working on the creation of new resins that meet the needs of plastic processing companies, getting ahead of trends, improving the performance of existing products and seeking sustainable solutions.

“At Braskem, researchers go into the field together with members of the commercial area to anticipate trends, identify new potential applications and study the markets to determine whether ideas are feasible or not,” explains Teyssonneyere.

Looking to develop new markets, Braskem is now supplying polypropylene resins that Bredero Shaw uses to insulate and rust-proof steel pipelines that transport oil from offshore rigs, as well as the polypropylene that Nova Plast uses to make coffee sacks for export.

 

Offshore pipelines

In the middle of the last decade, Braskem spotted an opportunity to work in the market for pipelines used in deep-water oil and natural gas exploration – and it is already getting results. Petrobras alone has to build at least another 15 offshore rigs by 2017, including 8 to 10 platforms for exploration of the pre-salt layer, which signals a promising market. “We found that polypropylene is widely used for that application, but all the resin was imported,” says Braskem PP (Polypropylene) Product Development Manager Alessandro Cauduro Lima.

To become a supplier to the oil industry, Braskem sought out Bredero Shaw, which saw advantages in the company’s proposal, such as a continuous supply of product and local technical service, which suppliers from outside Brazil could not provide. The challenge was to produce a plastic resin that met higher thermal requirements, since the main function of coating piping and offshore steel pipelines used to transport oil with polypropylene is to act as a thermal insulator, preserving the input’s original properties.

The development of resins for this application, begun in May 2008, was completed by the end of 2010. “During that period, the product was subjected to the rigorous approval process established by Petrobras,” says Alessandro Lima.

The first time this application was used was for Petrobras’s P-55 platform. The pipelines that offload oil and gas from that rig are a total of over 80 km long, which should require almost 3,000 tonnes of PCD 0140 and PCD 0140BR. Expectations are that consumption will total 6,000 t/year in 2011 and more than 10,000 t/year by 2013.

 

PVC roof tiles

The international market is an endless source of ideas for new applications that can be very well-received by Brazilian clients. This was the case with Precon, a roof tile manufacturer based in Minas Gerais, which partnered up with Braskem in 2011 to launch a product made with PVC as a fresh option in the Brazilian roof tile market. Another partner is Acinplas, a pioneer in Brazilian production of silobags (plastic silos for grain storage) for farmers, which teamed up with Braskem to find the best technology, analyze market viability and develop the raw material.

Thanks to the creation of PVC roof tiles, the Brazilian market in March was introduced to a pioneering alternative to ceramic and aluminum tiles, among others. It all started when Precon decided to invest in new options for the roof tile market.  In mid-2009, a new shareholder who had just entered Precon and was a former Braskem client introduced knowledge and expertise about the PVC chain to the company. Tested and approved in the Northern Hemisphere, from the start this new solution had sales potential of 100,000 t/year – about 20% of the roof tile market.

The first step was developing the formula for the compound used to make the tiles, which have specific requirements such as resistance to weathering and processing. In China, members of the Braskem Market Development team and Precon found a roofing model that does not require a large investment and has technical performance suited to the Brazilian market.

That partnership was not limited to production. “We worked together to build the business model for putting the product on the market, since the client was already active in the roofing business and could use their existing sales channel,” says Antônio Rodolfo, the Braskem Manager for Application Engineering and Market Development. “Braskem has been a terrific partner in this product launch, contributing to development, technology and marketing,” observes Décio Gomes, CEO of Precon. The company has a production capacity of 12,000 t/year of PVC roof tiles and is investing in expansion to reach 16,000 tonnes by the end of the year.

 

Coffee packaging

Another joint evaluation of the applications of that raw material confirmed the idea, shared by Braskem and Nova Plast, that plastic could be a good alternative for manufacturing coffee packaging for export. “Caffè Dóro issued a report some time ago, indicating that polypropylene sacking is the best way of preserving the quality of coffee based on parameters such as aroma, cleanliness, sweetness, flavor and bitterness. That was the final factor that made Nova Plast, a manufacturer of screens, sacking and other polypropylene products, decide to invest in factories to produce polypropylene fiber sacks,” says Roberto Samartim, the owner of Nova Plast.

The product was launched on the market in 2010 and, according to Samartim, sales are meeting expectations. By 2011, the company had sold 290 tonnes of polypropylene for that application. Braskem Application Engineering and Polypropylene Market Development Manager Mônica Evangelista observes that the market for coffee packed in jute sacks is estimated at 12 to 15 million units. “The same products made from polypropylene could potentially replace 40% of that market,” she says.

 

Grain storage

Some time ago, Acinplas, a national leader in the production of plastic packaging for fruits and vegetables based in Estância Velha, Rio Grande do Sul, was thinking of facilitating production of silobags in Brazil as an alternative for farmers. The company contacted Braskem, which already supplied it with polyethylene used to make plastic bags, and they worked together to find a way to produce silobags in Brazil and introduce an alternative grain storage culture in that country.

The product is already a success in Argentina, whose farmers consume about 150,000 units/year. Consumption in Brazil was low – just 5,000 units, at best. “Once we found a machine manufacturer in China, Braskem immediately sent Linear PE (polyethylene) resin there for testing. After making the necessary adjustments, we developed a durable and economical product,” explains Acinplas Commercial Director Gustavo Bazzano.

Acinplas has invested BRL 10 million in setting up its silobag factory in Sapiranga, RS, called Pacifil Brasil, which began operations in early 2011. The unit has an annual production capacity of 60,000 silobags, consuming up to 6,000 tonnes of polyethylene per year. According to the agreement between the two companies, Braskem will be the exclusive supplier for eight years. According to Bazzano, Pacifil already plans to expand production capacity next year with a projected investment of BRL 7 million. “We are pleasantly surprised by the demand, especially from grain producers in the Midwest. We have sold 10,000 units this year,” says Bazzano. Braskem Account Manager Carlos Carlucci underscores the sustainable nature of this initiative: “Pacifil is prepared to receive and recycle 10% of the silos sold,” he says. In other words, Brazil and Argentina may be soccer rivals, but in the case of silobags, they are playing on the same team.

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