Metallocene Polypropylene (mPP): A New Engine Driving High-Quality Development in China’s PP Industry

Polypropylene (PP) ranks among the most demanded polyolefin (PO) products globally, second only to polyethylene (PE). China, a major producer and consumer of PP, predominantly employs it in sectors such as extrusion, injection molding, and fibers, catering to diverse industries including packaging, electronics, appliances, automotive, fibers, and construction pipes. Over the past decade, China has witnessed a continuous expansion in PP production capacity, with an additional capacity of 25.46 million tons and an average growth rate of 11.35%. By the end of 2023, China’s PP production capacity reached 38.89 million tons. The burgeoning number of facilities coming online presents both heightened supply pressures and incentives for PP producers to shift towards manufacturing high-value-added and differentiated products.

While PP is primarily produced using traditional Ziegler-Natta catalysts, recent years have seen a growing interest in metallocene polypropylene (mPP) products, with their market share steadily increasing. Metallocene catalysts, being single-site catalysts, offer advantages such as high activity, stable polymerization reactions, and excellent hydrogen response. mPP produced using metallocene catalysts exhibits narrow molecular weight distribution, smaller crystallites, exceptional impact strength and toughness, transparency, high gloss, radiation resistance, outstanding insulation properties, and good compatibility with various other resins. Its applications span across nonwovens, injection molding, and film materials.

The global metallocene polypropylene market is poised to witness a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) exceeding 4.3% during the forecast period 2024-2030, with an incremental growth projected at USD 184.1 million. Industrial production of mPP commenced in the 1990s, with several companies globally achieving either full-scale or semi-industrial production. Major international players like ExxonMobil, LyondellBasell, Total, JPP, Clariant, and LG Chem have introduced their own mPP products to the market.

ExxonMobil Corporation
ExxonMobil’s mPP products, marketed under the brand name Achieve™, include grades such as 1605, 1615, 1635E1, 3825, 3854, 6936G1, and 6936G2, all of which are homopolymer products. Achieve 1605 exhibits low extractables and improved transparency, primarily utilized in injection molding. Achieve™ 1615 offers higher heat deflection temperature and flexural modulus, with low extractable content. Achieve™ 1635E1 boasts higher heat deflection temperature and flexural modulus, with low extractable content and haze, suitable for the rapid injection molding of transparent products, such as thin-walled rigid packaging items. Achieve™ 3825 and 3854 are suitable for spunbond nonwoven fabrics and fine-denier fibers, containing stabilizers for the production of spunbond/continuous filament products, showcasing excellent continuity and uniformity in high-speed spinning. Achieve™ 6936G1 features a melt index (MI) of 1500g and is suitable for meltblown applications. Achieve 6936G2 exhibits excellent barrier properties with an MI of 1550g, designed for meltblown nonwoven fabrics. Approved by the US FDA, Achieve™ 1615, 3825, 3854, and 6936G1 can all be used in the preparation of components or products intended for food contact.

LyondellBasell Corporation
LyondellBasell has introduced approximately 20 grades of mPP products with a melt index (MI) range of 9.5-1800g, primarily categorized as Metocene, Clyrell EM248U, and Purell HM671T. Metocene, a homopolymer, offers low volatiles, good processability, excellent transparency, and high strength at low temperatures, suitable for food packaging, cosmetics packaging, fibers, fabrics, nonwovens, medical laboratory utensils, and appliances. Clyrell EM248U, a impact copolymer, features high transparency, good sensory properties, excellent impact resistance, thermal stability, high hardness, and stress whitening resistance, primarily used for transparent food containers or packaging. Purell HM671T, a medical-grade copolymer, offers good sensory properties, high transparency, high flowability, and high hardness, primarily used in the medical and healthcare fields.

Total Corporation
Total’s mPP products include Lumicene MR and syndiotactic polypropylene (SPP) products. Lumicene MR 2001 and MR 2002 are homopolymers with high flowability, suitable for high-speed spinning of nonwoven fabrics and reducing fiber yellowing, primarily used in the production of fibers for nonwoven fabrics, personal care, and medical applications. Lumicene MR 2007 offers good sensory properties, excellent processability, high gloss, and low extractable content, suitable for cast film production. Lumicene MR 10MXO, MR30MC2, MR60MC2, among others, are atactic copolymer products with excellent transparency, gloss, and low oil extractables, used in the production of high-quality food or medical containers. Finacene EOD97-07 is suitable for food contact products, melt spinning, and spunbond fibers. Total offers two syndiotactic polypropylene copolymer products, numbered 1471 and 1571, suitable for food contact packaging, with 1471 mainly used in extruded sheets and films, and 1571 primarily used in cast and oriented films.

JPP Corporation
JPP Corporation’s mPP products, marketed under the brand names Wintec and Welnex. Wintec is an atactic copolymer with an MI(10min) range of 2-30g, offering high transparency and excellent temperature resistance, used in food containers, high transparency cast films, and multilayer co-extruded films. Welnex is a soft-reactive polypropylene elastomer, used for flexible molded products, films, extrusion, and injection molding.

Mitsui Chemicals Corporation
Mitsui Chemicals’ metallocene polypropylene product TAFMER XM is a random copolymer of propylene and 1-butene, primarily used for PP modification, transparent films, wires, cables, etc.; TAFMER PN is a morphology-controllable polypropylene-based material, with significant advantages in applications requiring transparency and impact resistance.

Clariant Corporation
Clariant has developed metallocene polypropylene waxes marketed under the brand name Licocene, primarily used as lubricating additives for polyolefins, dispersants for pigments, and processing aids. Additionally, polarity-modified (e.g., maleic anhydride grafting) Licocene products can be used as compatibilizers for polyolefins, wood, and natural fiber, significantly improving material performance.

LG Chem Corporation
LG Chem’s mPP products, marketed under the brand name Lucene, are homopolymers with narrow molecular weight distribution, high toughness, excellent spinnability, and low volatile organic compounds, suitable for nonwovens, thin-wall injection molding, food and pharmaceutical packaging, and automotive interiors.

China has historically lagged behind the international frontier in the development of mPP catalysts and process technology. However, in recent years, domestic polyolefin enterprises such as PetroChina and Sinopec have made significant breakthroughs in mPP research, developing relevant catalysts and conducting trial production of mPP products.

In late June 2017, Petrochemical Institute successfully deployed its self-developed supported metallocene polypropylene catalyst (PMP-S01) on an 80,000 tons/year batch liquid-phase polypropylene unit at Harbin Petrochemical, producing high-transparency metallocene polypropylene MPP6006. This product finds applications in packaging, films, and injection-molded products, providing differentiated performance for polypropylene applications.

On March 16, 2018, YanShan Petrochemical successfully produced metallocene polypropylene products. This marked the first successful development of metallocene polypropylene on an industrial continuous production unit in China, signaling YanShan Petrochemical as the first domestic continuous production enterprise for metallocene polypropylene. The mPP grades include MPP1300 and MPP1400, capable of producing metallocene polypropylene transparent materials MU4016 and fiber materials; MU4016 is a super-high transparency random copolymer polypropylene with high gloss, superior transparency, low extractables, and excellent sensory properties. It is suitable for injection molding and blow molding. In the cosmetics field, super-transparent PP using metallocene catalysis technology can achieve glass-like transparency. The popular ampoule essence packaging mostly uses injection molding, and the injection molding processing temperature of MU4016 can be as low as 190°C, which is more conducive to energy saving and emission reduction.

On December 16, 2020, the research team at Yangzi Petrochemical Research Institute achieved a new breakthrough in the production process of metallocene polypropylene on a pilot plant scale, also achieving continuous and stable operation of metallocene polypropylene production.

On May 28, 2021, Lanzhou Petrochemical Company’s petrochemical plant successfully produced metallocene polypropylene fiber products, marking the company’s first successful industrial trial production of metallocene polypropylene fiber materials, setting a record for the first successful start-up of similar products in China, and being a crucial step towards large-scale production of similar products domestically, accumulating valuable experience for domestic production of similar products!

At the end of April 2022, Dushanzi Petrochemical broke the foreign technology monopoly and successfully produced 1000 tons of metallocene polypropylene products using the ring tube technology, completely eliminating the odor problem caused by degradation method production.

On November 30, 2023, the main project of Jintang New Materials, with a total investment of 76 billion yuan by Rongsheng Holding Group, officially started construction in Zhoushan, Zhejiang. It is understood that the first batch of projects invested a total of 26.24 billion yuan, covering an area of 3,500 mu, including 10 sets of main units and control centers, and 12 public works such as roll-on roll-off terminals. It is expected that by the end of 2024, the first batch of 10 main units will be completed; related units will be put into operation in June 2025. The project includes over 1.3 million tons/year of EVA unit, 700,000 tons/year of POE unit, 50,000 tons/year of COC/COP unit, 950,000 tons/year of α-olefin unit, 450,000 tons/year of m-LLDPE unit, and 500,000 tons/year of m-PP unit. The significant capacity after production is substantial.

China’s application of metallocene polypropylene relies heavily on imports. The metallocene polypropylene imported by China is mainly used for meltblown materials (mask raw materials). Additionally, it is used for high-end healthcare products in the medical field, such as masks, surgical sheets, surgical gowns, high-end maternity and baby products, infusion bags, high-end diapers, high-end sanitary napkins, etc. Various medical consumables made from the LyondellBasell’s Purell HM671T have obtained dual medical certifications in Europe and the United States and can be used for medical mass production. A very small amount of metallocene polypropylene is used for high-end product packaging, such as high-end daily necessities, cosmetics packaging, circuit board packaging in electronic product processing, baby bottles, etc. Representative companies include Japanese Kao, Shiseido, and some European and American skincare brands, such as Estée Lauder and Lancôme.

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