Sulzbach, Germany-based Ticona held an opening ceremony 27 September at the new plant – which required almost 18 million pounds of steel, almost 500 miles of cable and 49 miles of piping. Construction began in late 2008 and eventually involved about 1,200 workers.
Ticona officials decided to place the massive plant in Frankfurt after an airport expansion required them to relocate an existing acetal plant in Kelsterbach, Germany.
The Frankfurt plant produced its first commercial material in July. The Kelsterbach plant will be decommissioned by the end of 2013, officials said in a statement.
In the release, Ticona general manager Michael Stubblefield described the construction of the new plant as “an extraordinary success”.
“I’m especially proud of the excellent safety performance, with more than 3 million work hours without a serious injury,” he said.
Ticona ranks as the world’s largest acetal maker, selling the material under the Celcon and Hostaform trade names. The firm is the engineering polymers business of Celanese Corp. of Dallas. Ticona employs more than 1,600 and posted sales of more than $1.1bn in its 2010 fiscal year.
In addition to the new plant in Frankfurt, Ticona is building a 110 million pound-capacity plant in Jubail, Saudi Arabia, through a joint venture with Saudi Basic Industries Corp. That plant is expected to be operational in 2013.
Acetal’s high mechanical strength and inherent lubricity make it a preferred material for gears and similar applications. The automotive market makes up about one-third of global acetal demand.
Global acetal demand is expected to increase through 2016, according to Priya Ravidranath, a market analyst with Chemical Market Associates Inc. in Houston. Global demand is expected to be almost three billion pounds per year by the end of that forecast period, she said.
But even as demand increases, Ravindranath said that global acetal operating rates are expected to decline to around 70%, largely due to large amounts of new capacity coming online in Asia.
Demand growth for acetal has been particularly strong in China, rising an average of 14% since 2006. Through 2016, Chinese demand for the material is expected to grow at an eight percent annual rate.