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Automotive Industries Interviews Anton de Vries, President, Basells Advanced Polyolefins Division

The automotive segment is very important to Basell. If we include our joint ventures and our position in HDPE fuel tanks, we supply over a million tons of product to this segment annually - DeVries

Netherlands-headquartered Basell Polyolefins is the global leader in the production of polypropylene and advanced polyolefins and is the largest manufacturer in Europe of polyethylene. Basell also has a leading position in the development, production and marketing of catalysts and is a global leader in the development and licensing of polypropylene and polyethylene processes.

Basell has manufacturing plants in 21 countries spread over five continents and customers in over 120 countries. In August 2005, the Access Industries group acquired Basell from BASF and Shell.

Basell has three divisions:

– Advanced Polyolefins Division, which consists of manufacturing and sales of polypropylene compounds and other specialty products;

– Polyolefins Division, which comprises manufacturing and sales of polypropylene and polyethylene, and

– Technology Division, which includes research & development, licensing, catalyst development and sales and new projects.

The company’s history of combining polyolefins businesses — together with its strong technology position and global production presence — place it in an excellent position to continue to be an innovative polyolefins leader well into the future

Basell’s automotive products include a family of polyolefins that are enhanced reactor thermoplastic olefins and compounded grades of polypropylene which, in combination, offer innovative solutions to the automotive industry. According to the company, there is an average of 50 kilograms of polypropylene in every vehicle manufactured today.

Polypropylene products resist noise and vibration, are light and are easy to process. Basell is also the global leader in HDPE specifically used for fuel tank applications.
Basell has also developed polyolefin nanocomposites which are used by General Motors for its Safari and Chevrolet Astro vans. This material is reportedly stiffer, stronger, less brittle, recyclable, fire-resistant and lighter than regular plastics.

Basell’s technological innovations include its proprietary Catalloy process, which enables tailored ingredient mixtures to be polymerized directly in-reactor. This is achieved through a unique, patented gas-phase combination of monomers and catalysts. Resins produced with the Catalloy process have been used by designers to reduce weight, provide scratch-resistant dashboards and a broad range of soft and rigid bumper materials that meet current requirements on paintability, impact/stiffness balance and thermal expansion.

Basell has invested in polypropylene resin and compounding plants around the globe, including joint ventures in high growth areas in Latin American and Asia Pacific. In March of this year, Basell inaugurated its new polypropylene compounding plant in Pindamonhangaba, Sao Paulo, Brazil. In May, Basell signed a joint venture agreement with Tasnee & Sahara Olefins Company for the construction of a new integrated ethylene and polyethylene complex at Al-Jubail Industrial City in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Basell purchased the Akzo Nobel’s polymerization catalysts and components business, which is based in Edison, New Jersey, USA, on March 31. This acquisition is expected to strengthen Basell?s global polyolefin catalyst business.

Basell has a state-of-the-art design computer aided engineering techniques to help automotive clients mould designs and optimize parts. This lab can simulate the phases of the moulding process as well as the working conditions of a part’s life.

Some of Basell’s product ranges for its automotive customers include Moplen and Pro-fax polypropylene resins used for automotive and stationary battery applications. Similarly, the company products can be used for vehicle bumpers, exterior and interior trim components and under-the-hood and other components.

Automotive Industries spoke to Anton de Vries, president of Basell’s Advanced Polyolefins Division, and asked him about the future of nanocomposites and Basell’s strategy for its automotive business.

AI: How big is your polyolefin nanocomposite business Vis a Vis Basell’s other products? And by how much do you expect this to grow over the next few years?

The use of nanocomposite compound for automotive applications has been very limited so far and we do not expect at the moment major changes in our business as a result of nano developments. In terms of what these compounds today cost versus what they bring in product property enhancement, the balance is still negative. There will need to be a major breakthrough in terms of costs to change this picture

AI: You have entered a number of strategic joint ventures around the globe for manufacturing and sales? Can you please explain Basell’s strategy and its benefits?

In automotive we try to be present in all major markets where our larger customers have a presence. Therefore we have invested in China and will expand our presence there to keep up with a rapid increase in demand. We invested in Brazil in 2005 and will expand our capacity there this year. We are present in Thailand and India and we will continue to be present in the major car manufacturing regions of the world: Europe (including increased activity in Eastern Europe), the NAFTA region, where in particularly Mexico is showing rapid growth, and Japan.

AI: How important is the automotive segment in Basell’s overall scheme of things? Do you see this sector growing or decreasing in importance in the future and why?

The automotive segment is very important to Basell. If we include our joint ventures and our position in HDPE fuel tanks, we supply over a million tons of product to this segment annually, making it one of the largest industrial application area that Basell has for its products. The car segment will remain a very important segment for Basell because of its strength in the important such as China, Eastern Europe (including Turkey) and Mexico. We will certainly participate in these areas.

The automotive segment is not an easy business to be in, however. Pressure on offering very cost-competitive and technically superior solutions to your customer is of prime importance, but we have been in automotive for many years and know what to do. In concert with the expansion of our business over the past few years, we have taken a lot of cost out via rationalization measures in those areas where growth potential is limited and we are convinced that our asset base ranks with the most competitive that you will find.

AI: Apart from nanocomposites, what are some of the other innovations your company is enthusiastic about?

We see good opportunities for increased use of our Catalloy resins in the automotive segment with interest in low gloss, zero gap and soft touch characteristics. Our R&D centre in Ferrara, Italy has come up with a number of new resins in we are actively introducing these new resins in the marketplace.

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