LONDON—Trinseo S.A. expects to commercialize its neodymium BR (Nd-BR) production by end of 2017 or early 2018 depending on customer feedback, according to Samer Al-Jabi, global business director for synthetic rubber.
The Berwyn, Pa.-based company announced in April 2014 that it planned to convert its nickel butadiene rubber (Ni-BR) production train in Schkopau, Germany, to manufacture Nd-BR.
"The project is progressing well. Throughout 2015 and early 2016 we completed our investment in Ni-BR asset upgrade with Nd-BR capability and managed a successful industrial scale up," Al-Jabi said.
The company, according to Al-Jabi, has been busy with product development and testing, as works to introduce new products to the market based on its functionalized S-SBR technology.
"We are working closely with our customers for product introduction and qualifications. We are confident that we will be successful with our new technology," Al-Jabi said.
With the performance tires market segment growing at a rate of 8-10 percent per year, Trinseo expects demand for Nd-BR to increase with it.
"With stable demand growth predicted for the future and with fewer new plants coming on-stream, we anticipate that global supply/demand will become more attractive for producers," he said.
The comments come in the wake of an earlier announcement by the company in October 2016 that it was increasing production capacity for SSBR by 50 kilotons per annum at its facility in Schkopau, Germany.
There is a growing demand for S-SBR from all our customers globally, and our growth plans for SSBR come as a direct response to this, Al-Jabi went on to say.
The expected capacity expansion will allow the company to serve its customers in Europe, North America and Asia.
However, with growing demand in Asia, Trinseo is looking at this capacity investment as a way to bridge to its future expansion in Asia.
"We are working to develop partnerships that will enable local production of our differentiated SSBR. We hope we can speak more about this in the near future," he added.
Emphasizing the importance of the synthetic rubber business in Trinseo, the official said "our investments in this business have developed in line with the evolving needs of the market, most recently that of the growing performance tire segment."
According to Al-Jabi, more than 70 percent of Trinseo's capital spend is used to support the Performance Materials division, and synthetic rubber is the most capital-intensive business within its portfolio.
In terms of developing new materials, Al-Jabi said market expectations were increasingly driven by a growing environmental awareness.
"We see more demand for advanced SSBR grades that can help future tires meet the lower CO2 emissions targets and stringent tire labelling requirements," he said.
Additionally, complexity in tire compounds is increasing and this requires tailored solutions for different producers.
Al-Jabi said that the company's currently-under-construction pilot SSBR plant in Schkopau would help it in developing innovative new compounds and will make it more agile and flexible.
The pilot plant, expected to be operational in the fourth quarter of 2017, will help shorten product-development cycle and the process of going from lab sample to industrial scale to commercial product.
With the pilot plant, said Al-Jabi, "we will be able to provide our customers with sufficient S-SBR quantities needed for real-life tire testing and, ultimately, qualification for industrial tire build-up platforms."