Symposium 14 : Invited Speaker
Polyolefins ‒ Challenges for the Future
Dr. Haruyuki Makio
Mitsui Chemicals Singapore R and D Centre
Polyolefins, as represented by polyethylene and polypropylene, are indispensable materials to support our modern lifestyles. The polyolefin industry has enjoyed phenomenal growth since the discovery of the Ziegler-Natta and Phillips catalysts in the 1950’s, and the annual production of polyolefins currently reaches over 100 million tons worldwide. Much of this success may rely on the inherent nature of polyolefins such as low specific gravity, chemical inertness, cost-effectiveness, and vast structural diversity derived from a few numbers of simple olefins. These characteristics help to contribute favorably to sustaining the balance between environmental needs and development, e.g., by saving energy (reduction of transportation costs), enhancing health and safety (low or no volatiles, plasticizers), and promoting recycling. Another important factor, which has constantly expanded the possibilities for polyolefin materials, is persistent efforts to develop new olefin polymerization catalysts to improve performance parameters such as mechanical strength, flexibility, and processability.
Nevertheless, it has been apparent that the polyolefin business, and indeed the entire chemical industry, faces a new and overriding challenge that is carbon management. The chemical industry uses carbon resources, especially in the form of olefins such as ethylene and propylene, and chemical processes have been established to efficiently transform these olefins into a variety of useful products, with polyolefins being a notable example. The making of these products from fossil fuels, and their burning as waste, result in the release of considerable amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere.In order to reduce overall CO2 emissions, it is necessary to: 1) enhance the efficiencies of chemical production processes; 2) use non-fossil resources (e.g. biomass) to make olefins and other chemical resources; 3) recycle industrial CO2 by transforming it into, for example, methanol. In this presentation, we would like to present the technologies that Mitsui Chemicals has developed to tackle these challenges.