PAULINIA, Brazil—Kraton Corp.'s planned expansion of Cariflex polyisoprene production at its Paulinia facility is an acknowledgment of the growing demand for Cariflex, according to the Houston-based company.
However, the expansion should not be taken as a commentary on whether or not Kraton will divest the Cariflex business, said Philippe Henderson, Kraton market development director for Cariflex Polyisoprene Products.
"Cariflex is a growing and profitable business," Henderson said. "Whether it remains within Kraton or belongs to another owner in the future does not matter.
"In either case, we want the business to be in a position to supply the growing needs of our existing and future customers, including the demand for Cariflex IR0401 latex, Cariflex IR2GL1 latex and potential new innovations."
Kraton announced early in March that it had approved construction of a semi works latex unit in Paulinia for production of Cariflex IR2GL1 latex.
This announcement came after Kraton's Feb. 19 statement that it was reviewing strategic alternatives for Cariflex, including a possible sale. Kevin Fogarty, Kraton CEO and president, reiterated this during a Feb. 28 conference call in which Kraton executives discussed the company's fourth-quarter and full-year financial results.
The semi works expansion will add about 1,900 square feet to the Paulinia complex, according to Henderson.
"To scale up a product from our lab pilot unit to the Paulinia commercial unit, the scale-up factor is currently over 1,000," he said. "The semi works unit will bring a capacity that enables a scale-up factor of about 100 versus the lab pilot, making it a truly intermediate scale between lab and full commercial scales."
Kraton will begin production in the semi works with its existing staff, and determine employee needs at the operation once activities there ramp up, according to Henderson.
The semi works' primary function is not to make a given line of product, but to allow innovation, product portfolio extension, process and quality improvements, and raw material testing, Henderson said.
"Therefore, the semi works might be used to produce limited volumes of a new product, such as Cariflex IR2GL1 latex, during the commercial ramp-up phase," he said.
Cariflex IR2GL1, according to Kraton, is a next-generation thermoplastic elastomer latex offering purity, strength and softness while reducing the allergens frequently found in medical gloves and other dipped goods.
It does not replace any previous grade of Cariflex, Henderson said. Rather, it is complementary to Cariflex IR0401, a proven material for surgical gloves, condoms and other dipped goods since 2001.
Cariflex IR0401 is produced in Japan through a contract manufacturer, according to Henderson. Kraton makes solid Cariflex IR at its plant in Belpre, Ohio, he said.
The Paulinia complex will not replace any Cariflex production in Japan or Ohio, according to Henderson. "The fact that we can supply Cariflex IR0401 latex from multiple lines and sites is a supply security advantage," he said.
However, to meet the growing needs of customers, Kraton is considering whether to build another Cariflex production unit in Paulinia, next to the existing one, he said.
Kraton also continues to review its options regarding the Cariflex unit, according to Henderson.
"An announcement will be made when a conclusion is reached," he said.