By Lauren Hilgers, Plastics News Correspondent
Shanghai, China -- At the UTECH Asia/ PU China 2011 show, Bayer MaterialScience AG showcased the many uses of its polyurethanes with a solar-powered plane -- a prototype meant less for its practical implementation and more for the point it proves.
"If we can make a plane that flies day and night on solar energy, why can't we do that in our daily life?" asked Azita Owlia, senior vice president, Asia Pacific at BMS.
Bayer is making a push into the region with a string of China-based investments announced in December 2010, marketing its PU as an environmentally friendly alternative to heavier materials. In addition to a $161 million investment in downstream facilities and polycarbonate capacity, the company announced plans to expand capacity in MDI (methyl diphenyl diisocyanate) and to open a polyurethanes system house in Qingdao.
In addition to a PU plant in Qingdao, Bayer will soon be opening the doors of a toluene diisocyanate (TDI) plant in Shanghai. The TDI plant will employ a new gas-phase phosgenation technology to help reduce solvent consumption, save energy and reduce operating costs, enabling Bayer to compete with domestic Chinese companies on cost.
"While we are confident of sustainable long-term market growth, we do see rising pressure because of rising raw materials prices. This will impact all the players in the PU market," said Joachim Wolff, the new head of BMS's polyurethanes business unit.
This pressure, Wolff expects, will lead to consolidation in a saturated market.
"Our strategy is not about adding more capacity, it's about keeping competitive by constantly updating our technology," Wolff said.
The TDI plant was successfully tested in July and will be brought online stepwise later this year, reaching its full capacity of 250 kilotonnes of TDI per year in 2012.
While Wolff expects much of their new capacity to go into applications like flexible mattresses and automotive seating, Bayer is also focusing on new, sustainable, applications for its PU line. At the UTECH show, the company also featured their efforts to develop a line of polyurethane nanofoams, a material that could greatly improve insulation in the future.
As part of this, the company is working on microemulsions to form polyurethane rigid foams, materials that would reduce the pore size in PU foams to under 150 nanometers, improving insulation and reducing the energy consumption of appliances. The foams could also be used to make the walls of appliances thinner.
These applications, said Owlia, help to make Bayer's materials relevant and useful across a range of sectors.
"China faces significant challenges in the future," she said. "We want to help meet these challenges."