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  • Writer's pictureNed Patton

What are Resin Producers Doing to Become Sustainable Businesses


I decided to use a different pic than last week, even though one of the resin suppliers that figure prominently in this post is in fact Hexion.  This pic from Goodnet, however, tells enough of the story that I am trying to tell here about sustainability in the composites business. 

So, how are the resin producers coming along with their sustainability efforts?  The answer is not bad, about as well as the fiber producers are doing, which I talked about last week.  While none of them have  yet adopted plant-based resins in their product portfolios, they are doing the stuff that is not quite as hard to do.  This is where the industry as a whole is today.  All of the raw material suppliers, fiber and resin manufacturers, and the large scale fabricators (mostly aerospace, boat building, and increasingly construction) are doing what they can today to reduce their carbon footprint, take their social responsibilities seriously, and doing what they can today to get rid of old, wasteful, inefficient, and greenhouse gas emitting processes. 

Again, getting to a completely sustainable future is going to be hard for any of the resin producers.  It is a long term, expensive, and difficult challenge for them to meet.  Again, they have to completely revamp their business model, develop and implement new processes for making the resins, and completely change their supply chain because they are going to use a different source of organic carbon than petrochemical – namely plants.  They are going to have to invest in things like green waste digesters that are primarily driven by bacterial fermentation to get the oils and long chain polysaccharides that they need.  And they are going to have to formulate new resins that have the same properties as their current petrochemical resins only using a completely new plant-based source.  Just the creation of a pure enough feedstock with the right chemistry to make these resins is going to be an enormous challenge. 

So, how are each of the resin suppliers stacking up and what are they doing to become sustainable businesses?  Getting a list of the top five epoxy resin producers worldwide is a somewhat difficult endeavor, since there are so many different industries besides composites that use epoxy-based products.  There are the adhesive manufacturers, flooring manufacturers, coatings for flooring, thin films for use in all sorts of applications, and a myriad others.  Let’s just focus this weeks post on four well known ones in the US, and a fifth one in Korea that sells primarily into the Chinese market.  The four US based companies are Hexion (headquartered in Columbus, Ohio), Olin (the ammunition maker), Huntsman (headquartered in Houston), and Dow Chemical (recently separated from DuPont)

Hexion (now Westlake) – Hexion started in 1899 with the founding of Borden Chemical.  In 2005, Borden merged with Bakelite, Resolution Performance products (brought in the Shell Oil Company epoxy business), and Resolution Specialty Materials.  It is the Shell epoxy resin (the venerable Epon™ series) that came through from Resolution / Shell Oil that Hexion made and sold.  Just to demonstrate how volatile this industry really is, Hexion sold off its epoxy business to Westlake Chemical (Houston, Texas) in 2021 to basically focus on adhesives and the organic acids that are used to make building products for residential and commercial buildings.  So now Westlake Epoxy carries on the Epon line of epoxy resins. 

Westlake itself is actually doing pretty well in terms of sustainability.  They have even developed a plant-based (GreenVin) PVC product that is 90% less carbon intensive than conventionally manufactured PVC.  This product uses agricultural and forest products waste to generate ethylene which is their feedstock to PVC.  Their entire GreenVin® line is produced using renewable sources like hydropower, wind, and solar, and is backed up by European Guarantees of Origin.  This is primarily because the organic chemistry industry (plastics, resins, etc.) is worldwide and the big players need to be able to sell their products both in the US and in Europe, South America, Africa, and even some in Asia.  So having one set of environmental rules is easier for the big guys in this market. 

They have not, however, developed a bio-based epoxy or composite resin.  And, again, we don’t really know what is going on in their research labs, primarily because of Intellectual Property concerns – most of these companies don’t want to let their secrets out before they’ve scaled it up to where they can introduce it on the market.  So, it would not surprise me if they already had a plant-based phenolic compound that they were trying to tease into a Bis-Phenol-A based epoxy resin.  This is especially true because they now own the remains of the Shell Chemical epoxy business which was once one of the top producers of epoxy in the world. 

Olin Corporation – This venerable company initially was a gunpowder manufacturer and still produces more of what is called “smokeless” powder than any other company.  Olin gunpowder is in all Winchester cartridges for guns of all types.  In fact, Winchester is an Olin brand.  Olin started in 1892 as a gunpowder supplier in East Alton, Illinois, so they’ve been in the gunpowder business for over 130 years at this point and still going strong. 

They do make a number of different formulations of epoxy resin, and are actually close in volume produced to Westlake (Shell Epon).  And, whereas Westlake makes just a few formulations that are sold in high volume, Olin has an extensive portfolio of all sorts of epoxies, from standard Bisphenol-A based epoxies, to toughened epoxies, Novolac resins, and a number of other products related to the manufacture of resins. 

When you take a look at their sustainability portfolio, what comes up is again mostly corporate responsibility, social responsibility, reductions in carbon footprint where they can with existing infrastructure, and the health and safety of their employees and in the communities where they own manufacturing facilities.  They are a “Responsible Care” company member of the American Chemical Council. 

They do not, however, have any bio or plant based resin initiatives that one can see from the outside.  And about a year ago, they ceased epoxy production at a couple of their facilities, one in Germany, and one in Asia.  So, it is conceivable that Olin has not gotten on the plant base sustainability bandwagon as yet since it does not appear that they have a lot of new products that they have introduced recently.  To me this means that they are probably not big on R&D in the chemical industry and probably are just looking to stay in business and profitable with what they have to offer now. 

Huntsman – This company – formed by Jon Huntsman in 1970 in Fullerton, CA, is now through both growth and acquisitions one of the largest plastic packaging and plastic resin manufacturers worldwide.  Their epoxy business was created when they bought the epoxy business of Texaco Chemical Company in 1994.  Now headquartered in The Woodlands, Texas (north of Houston), they are now one of the largest epoxy and plastics packaging companies in the world.  Jon Huntsman passed away in 2018, and his son Peter is now running the business.

In terms of sustainability, they are actually doing some things that others are not.  They have R&D facilities, and since they are headquartered in Houston, they are a large part of the petrochemical business.  One thing that they are doing is to take flare gas which is mostly methane and pyrolyzing it to extract hydrogen and solid carbon.  They intend to sell both as products – hydrogen in to the hydrogen transportation fuels business and solid carbon into the carbon-based materials business.  In this respect, they are working to get to carbon neutral as a company.  They also have sustainability programs in all of their manufacturing facilities, much like most petrochemical companies of today, working on reducing their carbon footprint as much as possible within their current manufacturing infrastructure. 

There isn’t much information available about what Huntsman is doing in the plant-based feedstock business nor do they mention anything at all about bio-based resins or plastics on their website.  So, if they are doing anything in this space it is behind closed doors.  They do seem to have an active R&D effort going on in their chemicals and plastics businesses, but again since that business is as competitive as it is they aren’t going to disclose to the public anything before they are ready to introduce a product. 

Dow Inc. – This company is what became of the initial merger of Dow and DuPont to become DowDuPont for several years, and the subsequent dissolution of that conglomerate into three companies with Dow taking the material science business from DowDuPont.  So, Dow got the range of epoxy resins as well as other organic adhesives and consumer care products as well as fairly extensive R&D labs. 

Dow is actually doing pretty well in terms of sustainability.  Since they are a material science company focused on organics (plastics, resins, organic acids and aldehydes for all sorts of materials, etc.) they understand that the future is in developing not only sustainable practices in their current manufacturing facilities, but also development of new products, recycling and reuse of end of life composites and plastics, and development of new recyclable formulations of their resin products. 

Their website even talks about Science and Sustainability which is actually where the development of a circular economy for these materials needs to go.  Dow has stated sustainability goals that are somewhat more future focused and overall sustainability directed than some other suppliers of these products.  According to their website they believe that innovations in chemistry, using science and technology as well as helping public policy decision makers to make the right choices, valuing nature by developing projects that are better for ecosystems, and moving toward a circular economy. 

And, while it is difficult to tell whether or not they are working on plant-based alternatives to the petrochemical feedstocks for their products, it appears from the pictures on their “Science and Sustainability” page that they understand that they need to use renewables for all process energy and that all of their products need to be recyclable and reusable so that we end the production of waste from end of life plastics and composites. 

KUKDO Chemical CO., LTD. – This is a Korean company that was formed in 1972 and has become the largest petrochemical company in Korea.  One of their main focuses has been on R&D and new product development.  In 1983 they established Kukdo Research Institute, and in 1995 they participated in the “Great Man-Made River project in Libya that supplies fresh water from underground aquifers to the populus cities in Southern Libya.  Their participation was to be an epoxy supplier to that project, which significantly increased their production of epoxy resins and adhesives. 

As a company that are actually doing well in terms of sustainability.  They even openly state on their website not only that they are reducing their carbon footprint in every facility and product stream that they have, they are also investing a significant amount of their profit into development of plant-based bio-resins.  They have a range of epoxies and they are developing new formulations for different applications.  In their R&D lab they are also developing process optimization technologies new basic raw materials, and actually have identified a major R&D effort to create and produce a bio-epoxy resin and bring it to market.  And they are also working on a bio-platform monomer and a bio-polyol product to be used as precursors for all sorts of resin systems.  All in all, a pretty good show and a very good start into the circular economy that is needed in the composite resin business. 

That’s about enough for this week.  I hope everyone that reads these posts enjoys them as much as I enjoy writing them.  As usual I will post this first on my website – www.nedpatton.com – as well as on LinkedIn.  And if anyone wants to provide comments to this, I welcome them with open arms.  Comments, criticisms, etc. are all quite welcome.  I really do want to engage in a conversation with all of you about composites because we can learn so much from each other as long as we share our own perspectives. 

Again, I don’t see any reason to slow down, since I’m still looking down at the dirt rather than looking up – if you get my drift.  Over a hundred posts and going strong.  I’m pretty sure I’ll make it to well over 200 before I decide to retire from this stuff.  We’ll see.  I’m not sure I know what retirement is.  If it means to stop working, that will be the day I’m looking up at the dirt. 

I also wanted to remind everyone that I will be speaking at the SAMPE conference in Long Beach in May.  I’m going to be talking about the subject that I have a passion for – composites sustainability – in case you hadn’t guessed.  Maybe I can help shake up the industry a bit again, like what happened at the Carbon Fiber Conference in Salt Lake.  One can only hope.  Anyway, for anyone that is interested in materials and process engineering, SAMPE will be a great conference.  And they will have a really great exhibit as well.  And for the material suppliers and composites fabricators out there, if you’re going to be at SAMPE please look me up.  If you have a booth there, I’m sure I will drop by and chat and leave a business card.  I am actually in this to help the industry as much as I can to move into the future while still executing on current business.  In other words – change the business without going out of business. 

And, finally, I still need to plug my book, so here’s the plug.  The book pretty much covers the watershed in composites, starting with a brief history of composites, then introducing the Periodic Table and why Carbon is such an important and interesting element.  The book was published and made available last August, and is available both on Amazon and from McFarland Books – my publisher.  However, the best place to get one is to go to my website and buy one.  I will send you a signed copy for the same price you would get charged on Amazon, except that I charge $8 shipping.  Anyway, here’s the link to get your signed copy:  https://www.nedpatton.com/product-page/the-string-and-glue-of-our-world-signed-copy.  And as usual, here’s a picture of the book. 



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