Broadeninghorizons plastics & elastomers
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Broadening the horizons of plastics & elastomers

10:28 AM, 10th February 2017
Ajay Shah, president, Polymer Chain, Reliance Industries Ltd,
Ajay Shah, president, Polymer Chain, Reliance Industries Ltd.

In an interview, Ajay Shah, president, Polymer Chain, Reliance Industries Ltd with Chemical Today magazine delves into the unexplored opportunities and possibilities that plastics and elastomers offer. 

By Shivani Mody

Petrochemicals and polymers industry outlook.

Petrochemicals form the backbone of many industries playing an important role in the improved lifestyle and well-being of the country and society at large.I believe the outlook for the petrochemicals sector is as bright as ever.The industry has faced many challenges and constantly innovated to come out in a better shape.

But this is no reason for complacency. We as an industry will have to keep pushing the boundaries of performance to deliver what our customers and the world needs. It could be better materials, it could be sustainable solutions or it could be well-being.

Growth opportunity for polymers and elastomers in international markets.

The global demand for polymers and elastomers will keep growing-driven by higher penetration of plastics in traditional markets as well as through new markets in the developing and under developed regions.A large proportion of a global population is yet to benefit from plastics and elastomers.

The increased need for mobility is driving demand for both, plastics and rubbers.The challenge to increased mobility is finding sustainable and cost effective solutions.Plastics can help achieve weight reduction in an economical way helping to achieve these goals.

Global demand is driven by developing nations aspiring for a better lifestyle.Developed markets have moved towards sustainable use and higher value products and developing markets are expected to follow suit.This opens up an opportunity for sustainable use of polymers and elastomers.

Key trends that will drive the market.

We can identify two major trends in the polymer industry:

One is that the average size of the polyolefins plants being built has increased, adding capacity in higher increments and thus affecting the balance to a larger extent.Going by the announced capacity, the average additions per plant in 2020 will be more than double that in 2014.

The other is process development for better product properties, where catalysts play an important role in process economics and product properties.The two key motivations for catalyst development are better yield per unit of catalyst and properties of the product resins.

In polyolefins, metallocene catalyst represents a key development in this direction.This catalyst allows for better physical properties such as higher strength.High strength PP and UHMWPE are the products that exemplify the extreme properties that this catalyst can impart.

UHMWPE finds applications in highly demanding areas such as orthopaedic implants, light weight impact resistant sheets for ballistic protection-such as crowd control and defence.

Tyres, the key sector for elastomer demand are looking to contribute to higher sustainability target through higher fuel efficiency through low rolling resistance-neodymium based catalyst.

Self-healing elastomers are one more development that could revolutionise the tire sector, where tire punctures become a thing of the past.Latest developments indicate that we may see commercialisation of this technology in the near future.

Growth potential of speciality chemicals.

Automotive applications, food additives, agrochemicals, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics are key sectors that could drive the growth in speciality chemicals in India.The sector is fragmented and faces scaling up issues.

Fast lifecycles, commoditization and environmental compliance are challenges faced by the sector.This adds a significant proportion of the cost. Indian manufacturers in the field have risen to the challenge and are going international aggressively.

Ways to meet demand for Glacial Acrylic Acid in India.

The Glacial grade acrylic acid will find increased demand in India, in lifestyle and hygiene applications as its major end use-super absorbent polymer (SAP)-increases.

The key challenges to Glacial Acrylic Acid production are propylene volatility and plant economics.Large refining companies in India have the required size but, any GAA capacity will have to be integrated.The ethylene propylene balance, domestic demand for SAP and competing uses of propylene will have to be justified to have a decent payback.Current economic size is much more than the domestic demand.

Add to this, the competing processes for acrylic acid production that are becoming economical in comparison to petrochemical route and there is significant uncertainty in the product economics.

Opportunities for polymers and elastomers in emerging markets.

Large and growing urban middle class, aspirational lifestyle and consumption growth are deciding the growth opportunities in any emerging market.Plastic packaging has become ubiquitous for both functional and aesthetic reasons growing applications like prepared and convenience food that has become a part of our fast lifestyles.

Increased penetration of plastics in white goods, household electronics and automotive applications are also expected to drive the growth in polymer demand as plastics help in weight and cost reduction while maintaining the functional aspects.

Agriculture with the use of plastics (Plasticulture) will provide various new applications of plastics that will help drive higher productivity in this traditional sector.Applications like mulch films, crop covers, drip irrigation and silage bags and fruit covers help improve product quality and reduce inputs improving productivity.

Plastics with better properties find applications demanding new areas such as infrastructure, construction-Geotextiles, gabions, road accessories etc.

Growth in the automotive market is a key driver for elastomers market in India.Tyres account for about 2/3rd of the total elastomer consumption in India.Indian Automotive manufacturing for domestic as well as an export market will drive growth in elastomers industry.

Factors challenging elastomers and polymers industry.

The global capacity increase could result in higher competition in the plastics resin sector.With significant cost advantages for the Middle East producers, Indian plastics producers will have to become highly competitive on cost as well as quality fronts.

Imported finished goods remains a dampener for the growth of both plastics and rubber processing industry in the country.FTAs with ASEAN countries have led to sharp rise in imports of plastic products and raw materials, which has almost quadrupled between FY2006 and FY2016.

The nil or low duty from FTA countries has led to an inverted duty structure which is not conducive for growth in the domestic industry and against “Make in India” cause.

Domestic PE and PP capacity are set to increase at a frantic rate between 2016 and 2018.The PE capacity will close to double in the time making the country surplus in PE.Thus, the domestic market will face a sudden oversupply situation.

The domestic industry, from resin manufacturers to the processors and brand owners will have to improve on the quality and sustainability fronts to meet consumer sensitivities.

For elastomers-in rubber production, the regional overcapacity is a key challenge.The industry may, however, return to a healthy position as demand growth remains steady, especially in India.Nevertheless, the larger challenge will be tired dumping in India from Chinese, Korean and Thai imports.

Future end-user demands for polymers and elastomers globally.

Plastics is the key raw material in new manufacturing methods like 3D printing.Such processes have the potential to change the economics of manufacturing in different ways.Customization may not remain a trade-off for cost and result in higher use of plastics in new applications.

Composites are finding increased applications especially in structural applications that require light weight.Plastic matrix composites are finding applications where weight reduction and structural integrity cannot be compromised, such as wind turbines to some simple aesthetic applications like door frames and boards.

Engineering and chemical research has also harnessed properties of exotic plastics into demanding applications with smart plastics.Such materials are already finding applications in areas such as baby food dispensers, food packaging (indicates temperature or shelf life), shock absorption and manufacturing jigs and fixtures.

A specific segment of smart materials-foldable screens and wearable technology will further expand the scope of polymer applications from structural to inherently functional uses like smart walls, light weight flexible displays etc.

In elastomers, self-healing elastomers will find applications such as puncture resistant tires and rotary & static seals.

Overview of polymers, cracker and elastomer business at Reliance Industries.

RIL operates one of most complex refining complexes and the downstream integration gives it an edge in the domestic market.Our cracker capacity is the largest in the country and growing with the new 1.5 MMTA cracker in 2017.We will use diverse feedstock to ensure competitive positions for all our crackers.We are the largest domestic poly-olefins and elastomers manufacturer in India.We have access to a wide range of technologies and thus can produce plastic and rubber with a wide range of specifications. This gives us a distinct technical advantage in the market.

Business dynamics in Asia Pacific region.

Recron, Malaysia has been a successful acquisition for RIL in Southeast Asia. Currently, we are focusing on having our capacities in India.But we do cater to the South-east Asian market through our exports, mainly polypropylene.This region is already very competitive in terms of polymers production.However, RIL has established regular exports to this region.

India is likely to become surplus in PE production in the coming year and we can have the opportunity to cater to this fast developing market as well.

Focus on R&D and innovation.

A key strength of RIL is the technical and research capability in India.Our new research centres are among the most advanced technical centres for polymer testing in India where we offer expert technical guidance.It is a shining example of our customer-centric culture, partnering with customers to innovate and develop new products.

On a longer term, we are constantly looking to develop cutting edge products at our plants to compete with global players.We are constantly developing a process to improve product properties and achieve better economies, through a development of polymer grades, processes parameters and catalysts.

Meeting global standards for sustainability and bio-based elastomers.

At Reliance sustainability is looked at in a larger-lifecycle perspective.We have been declared one of the greenest manufacturing companies in the country as we go beyond compliance to establish leading practices in the industry, environmentally safe and sustainable products and processes.

We are the first “Responsible Care Certified” company in India. It is a testimony to our commitment to the society and humanity at large.Our Jamnagar plantation has turned a large belt of barren land into a green and productive orchard producing some of the best mangoes.

We have made some strident efforts to bring prosperity to the countries underdeveloped regions through the efforts of Reliance Foundation.The effort spearheaded by foundation takes modern technology for better results in agriculture, sustainable livelihood, education and healthcare across the country.

© Chemical Today Magazine


See the Interview in Chemical Today magazine (Pg. 18)

https://www.worldofchemicals.com/digitalissue/chemical-today-january/14

View the Interview on Mobile, download the Chemical Today magazine app

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