By David Reed, UT EditorMaasvlakte, The Netherlands-Lyondell Chemical Co. and Bayer MaterialScience AG formally inaugurated their €800-million ($988-million) joint venture propylene oxide/styrene monomer (PO/SM) plant, 19 March.Capable of making 285 000 tonnes of PO and 635 000 tonnes of styrene, the unit has been in planning since 1998, originally by ARCO Chemical Co. The plans went into abeyance after the firm was taken over by Lyondell in June of that year; Lyondell also cited "a fall in the styrene market and debts incurred from the purchase of ARCO Chemical," as reasons for delaying the project.Further delays ensued when Bayer AG purchased Lyondell's polyether polyols business in April 2000 and then took time to decide whether or not to participate in the building of the PO/SM plant, designated PO-11. Lyondell formally announced the project's go-ahead in September 2000, and Bayer's role was consolidated at the June 2001 groundbreaking ceremony.The unit's output represents roughly 5 percent of the industry's global PO capacity, presently running at 5.1 million tonnes, according to Lyondell data. It gives the US firm its first styrene facility in Europe and its second PO plant in the region; it operates a 246-ktpa PO/tert. butyl alcohol unit in Botlek, a few kilometres north of Maasvlakte, where it also has a 127-ktpa butanediol plant."This new plant clearly demonstrates the importance of Europe to Lyondell. Europe is a key market for us," said Morris Gelb, Lyondell's executive vice president and chief operating officer, during the inauguration.Also, "this is a significant step for Bayer," said Tony van Osselaer, board member of Bayer MaterialScience AG responsible for production and technology.The plant was built and brought on stream with no accidents, emphasised Jos Benders, director European manufacturing for Lyondell, it is now running at capacity, he added. Gelb added that Lyondell estimates growth in the global PO business is running at 5-6 percent a year, more strongly in Asia-Pacific, while styrene markets are growing around 4-5 percent."