Dow’s Thai Polyol Plant Starts Production
US Dow eyes rising middle class with Thai polyols plant
Interview article by Al Greenwood
HOUSTON (ICIS)–US-based Dow Chemical intends to serve Asia's rapidly growing middle class with the new polyether polyols that it recently completed, an executive said.
Dow announced the start-up of the Thai polyether polyol plant on Tuesday. It is in the Asia Industrial Estate in Rayong, and it has a capacity of up to 200,000 tonnes/year.
The Thai plant is the latest expansion project that the US-based producer is pursuing in its polyurethanes business. The large Sadara joint venture in Saudi Arabia will include polyols and other polyurethanes feedstock.
In the last three years, the company has increased production by about 20% prior to Sadara, said Mark Bassett, global vice president, polyurethanes, for Dow. He made his comments during an interview with ICIS.
"We continue to invest globally as a business globally – not just in Asia but in every region – to meet the growing needs of our customers," he said.
The plant will be able to produce polyols used for both flexible-slab polyurethanes and those used in coatings, adhesives, sealants and elastomers (CASE), Bassett said.
"It's going to be a flexible asset," Bassett said.
The plant will serve northeast, southeast and south Asia.
Polyols are one of the two main groups of feedstock for polyurethanes. The others are isocyanates.
In general, global demand for polyurethanes is growing by a multiple of 1.3-1.5 of GDP, Bassett said.
Asia already is the largest market for polyurethanes, Bassett said. Given its growing GDP, it is also the fastest growing market.
More importantly, the region's middle class is growing rapidly, which will further drive demand for polyurethanes.
By 2030, the Asia-Pacific region should have 60% of the world's middle class, according to Dow.
This is an important trend for polyurethanes, because demand for the material is closely tied to middle-class buying habits.
Flexible-foam polyurethanes are used in mattresses, automobiles and furniture.
In addition to growing wealth, stricter energy-efficiency standards are also increasing demand for polyurethanes. The material ranks among the best insulators.
Polyurethanes are used in insulation in houses and buildings as well as for refrigerators and other appliances.
As nations adopt stricter energy-efficiency standards, demand should further increase for polyurethanes.
The new polyols plant in Thailand will rely on a nearby propylene oxide (PO) plant for feedstock, Bassett said. The plant has a PO capacity of 390,000 tonnes/year, and Dow had started production earlier in the decade.
The polyols plant will join a propylene glycol (PG) plant that Dow had opened earlier. The two will essentially consume all of the PO from the Thai plant, Bassett said.
The Thai polyols plant will be complemented by the new isocyanates capacity that Dow is developing at its Sadara joint venture with Saudi Aramco.
Sadara, which is being built in Jubail, Saudi Arabia, will have an 18-month start-up window, with ethylene and polyethylene (PE) coming up first, ethylene oxide (EO) and PO next, and finally polyols and isocyanates in late 2016.
The Sadara units will support markets in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and eastern Europe, Bassett said.
"The innovation in the marketplace is really leading the way, and we build to support those needs," he said.
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