ExxonMobil Chemical Co. will double production capability at its Baytown, Texas, plant for the firm´s Exxpro specialty elastomers used to make tire inner liners.
The multimillion-dollar project is targeted for completion by the fourth quarter of 2006, said David M. Marotta, global marketing manager for butyl polymers.
The expansion plan was unveiled at Rubber Expo ´05.
Brendan Rogers, senior engineer for butyl polymers, also presented a paper, "Advances in Tire Innerliner Technologies," he prepared with two other ExxonMobil engineers—Robert Webb and Weiqing Weng—at the expo.
The investment in Exxpro capacity will support the development of new, higher air barrier inner liner technologies that target both passenger and commercial vehicle tires, Art Sullivan, global butyl polymers vice president, said in a prepared statement.
Rogers and Marotta didn´t disclose the Baytown plant´s current capacity or say how much the project will cost. The expansion will be based on new investments and recent operational improvements.
Exxpro is primarily an alternative to conventional halobutyl elastomers, a company spokeswoman said.
It is a brominated isobutylene para-methylstyrene copolymer that has been improved by using both nanocomposites and dynamically vulcanized alloys, in part because of continued joint development work with Japan´s Yokohama Rubber Co. Ltd., the company said.
Recent results have demonstrated improved air retention properties of the rubber/plastic film inner liner, Marotta said.
Because of that liner, down-gauging allows customers to use less material, reducing raw materials and weight to get a more desirable tire, according to the official.
The company and Yokohama have been working together on the material technology since May 2004.
The prototype Exxpro polymer liners made with nanocomposites have been processed successfully into lighter-weight truck tires at a tire plant, Marotta said.
However, the marketing manager cautioned, it could be another three years before the new, higher air barrier inner liner actually hits the market for truck tires and maybe longer than that for passenger tires.
Some tire companies could accelerate that process if they are aggressive, added Rogers.
In the paper he presented at the convention, Rogers noted that since the introduction of bromobutyl rubber, there have been few significant changes to the composition and form of tire inner liners.
With improvements in other tire components, he noted that the inner liner offers numerous opportunities to improve performance parameters, including air retention and tire casing durability, particularly for commercial tires.
"Inner liners based on nanocomposites and other new materials may allow gauge adjustments and permeability reductions with potential improvements in tire casing durability and, for example, reductions in truck fleet tire casing attrition rates," the engineer said.
Rogers said that nanocomposites "based on brominated isobutylene p-methylstyrene copolymers with organically modified layered silicates enable permeability reductions not possible with conventional halobutyl elastomers and filler systems."
He added that the use of nanocomposites could require reformulation of some compounds and the modification of processing specifications.