Solvay is boosting its global PEEK capacity to more than 2,500 metric tons with a new plant in Augusta, Georgia, that reflects high demand for high-heat engineering thermoplastics. Victrex, the ICI spinoff that invented PEEK, also announced this month that it is investing in a major new R&D facility in northern England.
Growth rates for PEEK, increasingly used in automotive, electronics, aircraft and medical applications because of its high mechanical strength and chemical resistance, are around 10 percent.
Solvay will invest more than $85 million in expansions at its Specialty Polymers site in Georgia, which is expected to come on stream in mid-2016 and, at a site already under construction in Panoli, India.
Solvay, founded in Belgium in the Nineteenth Century by Earnst Solvay, divested its pharmaceuticals branch in 2008 to focus on chemicals and plastics. Its ketone plays are trademarked KetaSpire PEEK and AvaSpire PAEK.
“This major expansion drive will make Solvay the only player in the industry to produce PEEK at two different sites in two different, growing regions,” said Augusto Di Donfrancesco, president of Solvay’s Specialty Polymers Global Business Unit. “The new plant in the United States together with the one in India will provide unmatched security of neat resin supply.”
The issue is particularly timely because of the shortages of SABIC’s Ultem PEI high-heat resin triggered in part by failure of capacity to keep up with demand.
Meanwhile, Victrex—which returned to double-digit growth in 2014—is receiving a £1.3
($2.12) million grant from the UK government’s Regional Growth Fund to build a Polymer Innovation Center to speed scaling up of new products and applications to full commercialization.
One recent Vixtrex innovation gaining quick traction in the aircraft market allows engineers to overmold a PAEK-based composite with fiber-reinforced PEEK injection molding materials. The result is components that are described as up to 60 percent lighter than typical metal and thermoset systems. Victrex and Tri-Mack Plastics Manufacturing Corp. developed an aerospace bracket using this new polymer and technique that can be molded in minutes versus hours. PAEK, which has similar mechanical properties to PEEK, has a lower processing temperature than PEEK and crystallizes quickly. The laminate is preformed to the net shape before the overmolding takes place.
Major PEEK suppliers include Victrex Plc. (U.K.), Solvay Speciality Polymers (U.S.), Panjin Zhongrun High Performance Polymers (China), and Jida Evonik High Performance Polymers (China).