Polymer market in new conditions: Nizhnekamskneftekhim holds positions despite the market’s state
In 2020, Russia’s polymer market faced a big crisis as well as other chemical sectors. Despite the difficult situation, the petrochemical flagship of Tatarstan — Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC, which is part of TAIF GC — keeps implementing investment projects designed for the next years by strengthening its positions in the Russian market of large-tonnage polymers.
Polymers in our life
The polymer market is an important and dynamically developing part of the world chemical industry. The sector doesn’t give way to the oil and gas, currency, automotive and other markets.
Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC is Russia’s second-largest supplier of different plastics. And if the company is widely known as a manufacturer of synthetic and butyl rubbers in the world market, in the Russian one, it is famous precisely for polymers. This is why what happens on Nizhnekamsk industrial sites has always been of great interest to Russian plastic recyclers.
The production line made by Nizhnekamskneftekhim includes different grades of polypropylenes, polyethylenes, ABS plastics, polystyrenes — tens of grades that can satisfy the most sophisticated demand of recyclers.
The total basic polymer production capacities at Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC are 730,000 tonnes a year.
Production of Nizhnekamskneftekhim’s polystyrene
During the construction of plastic plants in 2000, Nizhnekamskneftekhim already aimed at import substitution that would allow filling the Russian market with high-quality products and driving out imported general-purpose PS, PP and PE grades.
This task was successfully performed. 10 years later, the petrochemists occupied many segments of the market, sold a wide range of materials to Russian consumers for a lot of recycling spheres — extrusion, casting, forming and others.
Polystyrene is the first product Nizhnekamskneftekhim’s ascension to the segment of plastics began with. The production was launched in 2003. Today the company is Russia’s leading polystyrene manufacturer. NKNK makes high-impact polystyrene (HIPS) and general-purpose polystyrene (GPPS). The latter is a fragile glassy polymer that doesn’t have high elasticity. The main area of its application is packaging, including food packaging, packaging of toys, household articles.
To make the polymer more elastic and high-impact, the structure of PS is modified here by adding rubber. This HIPS is used in making household articles, office equipment, electronics, etc.
Nizhnekamskneftekhim recently completed test production of a new polystyrene grade 535М. It is designed to make fridges, big moulds with complex configuration and a lot of locks (Wirpool, BEKO used to make such items from imported polystyrene grades). The development of the new grade took place together with specialists of the plant and scientists of NKNK’s R&D Centre. According to its characteristics, the grade is an analogue of foreign polystyrene Styrolution Crystal 165N by Ineos Styrolution. Now the GPPS 535М is tested by end consumers.
The Nizhnekamsk polyolefin production is one of a kind. The enterprise has mastered the production of 51 grades of polypropylene and 34 grades of polyethylene, including low-density polyethylene (LDPE), medium-density polyethylene (MDPE) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE).
Sferilen technology mastered by Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC is unique and allows making HDPE, MDPE and LDPE in the same unit, that’s to say, the production is versatile and can adapt to the market’s demand. Thanks to two gas core reactors, this technology allows manufacturing bimodal HDPE grades for pressure pipes (with РЕ 100 certificate) and high-density film grades.
Bimodal HDPE grades are successfully synthesised in a scheme with two reactors to isolate steel gas and oil pipelines and cable sheaths. Besides, as experience showed, the scheme enables to manufacture bimodal LLDPE accordingly the latest requirements and world tendencies in the development of PE grades.
NKNK’s low-density polyethylene is famous for its high chemical resistance, great performance at both low and high temperatures. It is very resistant to cracking, piercing and tear, the product has low steam and gas permeability, the possibility of reuse, protection from corrosion and aggressive environments and other advantages. The Cable Industry Research and Development Institute also talks about the high quality of NKNK’s polyethylene.
“The cable industry was extremely dependent on import supplies as early as in the USSR. The situation hasn’t almost changed during the post-Soviet period. Nevertheless, we manage to do some research and developments with many enterprises that help us replace imported materials, especially in special and military machinery. NKNK is one of such enterprises that became core for us in developing bimodal polyethylenes. These materials are used in the cable industry in sheaths of communication cables, sheaths of medium- and high-voltage power cables. This product must provide the features of our cable products,” Yevgeny Vasilyev, vice director general of the Cable Industry Research and Development Institute, director general of Cable Industry Research and Development Institute Trading House CJSC, told Realnoe Vremya’s correspondent in an interview.
According to consumers, NKNK plastics have improved characteristics and durability. While in some indicators, they excel the closest opponents. This is a result of hard work on the expansion of the range of grades to leave market segments with excessive demand to a more sought-after segment.
“As a cable industry institute, we produce and develop products that meet the highest international standards. For this purpose, we should use materials that have a corresponding quality. This is why we did some research and tests with NKNK’s management and specialists two years ago to develop the formula of a new type of polyethylene,” says Yevgeny Vasilyev, vice director general of the Cable Industry Research and Development Institute. “Today the market has two grades of bimodal polyethylene that our plants began to consume. They total around ten. This material actively competes with a product of a very famous international company, while in some aspects it outperforms it.”
The presence of its own scientific subdivision at Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC facilitates the success in import substitution — the R&D Centre whose specialists develop and introduce innovative solutions in plants of the joint-stock company. So since 2015, the company has made a series of LLDPE grades (РЕ5118L, РЕ5118NM, РЕ5118Р, РЕ5118QM) covering different areas of recycling — from extrusion blow moulding with Melt Flow Index equal to 0,5 g/10min to cast extrusion with Melt Flow Index that totals 3,0 g/10min. The key product is high-tech РЕ5118QM grade whose quality outstrips foreign analogues allowing recyclers to make a high-quality stretch film from it, for instance, to package foods, pallets with different products, etc.
The production of new polyethylene grade PE5118L was successfully tested in February 2020. It joined the production programme, it is used to manufacture endurable bags, packaging for frozen foodstuffs and films for agriculture. It is very durable, resistant to piercing and high impact resilience. Test batches of high-margin bimodal polyethylene grades РЕ5230К and РЕ5235К designed by specialists of NKNK’s R&D Centre were produced last July. Analogous products aren’t made in Russia and CIS countries, while a handful of companies manufacture them around the world using complex technological solutions and, as a consequence, sell them at a high price.
“From a perspective of import substitution, it is a great achievement helping reduce the dependence on foreign suppliers and creating possibilities of developing new modern materials inside the country for Russian recyclers. The presence of a two-reactor technology in HDPE and LDDPE synthesis allows performing these tasks successfully,” noted head of the company’s R&D Centre’s Polyolefin Research Laboratory Ildar Salakhov.
The world’s most popular plastic
ABS plastic is another product that recommended itself well in the polymer market. A combination of acrylonitrile and butadiene links with fragments of styrene provide ABS plastic with elasticity and necessary impact resistance, which makes it one of the most popular plastics to manufacture complex moulded commodities with high stretching.
Its production was put into operation at Nizhnekamskneftekhim in 2013 and is designed to make extrusion and casting plastic grades. Nizhnekamsk’s ABS plastic is widely used in the production of fridges and domestic appliances, electronics, plumbing, toys, the automotive industry, packaging and the furniture industry.
Russia’s domestic market, countries of the Eurasian Customs Union and “near-abroad” countries are the main regions where Nizhnekamsk plastics are sold.
“We used to have problems with plastic supplies. There were troubles when we worked with foreign companies, including from Korea. When Nizhnekamskneftekhim appeared in the market, the problems with ABS plastic supplies disappeared. Their plastic meets all international standards in terms of shininess, fluidity, frost tolerance, which is very important for us. This type of plastic met all standards here. We are very glad there is such an enterprise that addresses all problems, creates technical support,” Aleksandr Skromnov, head of Maintenance Supply and Procurement at POZIS JSC, told Realnoe Vremya.
He also added that POZIS makes fridges, medical equipment and antibacterial air purifiers, which are very popular during the pandemic, from Nizhnekamskneftekhim’s ABS plastic.
Key players in Russian market
Today 25 factories in total making large-tonnage polymers operate in Russia. Eight of them manufacture ethylene polymers. HDPE is made at Kazanorgsintez, Tomskneftekhim, Ufaorgsintez, Angarsk Polymer Plant, Gazpromneft Salavat. LDHE is manufactured at Kazanorgsintez, Nizhnekamskneftekhim, Gazpromneft Salavat, Stavrolen.
A new player appeared in the polymer and LPE market in 2019 — ZapSibNeftekhim of SIBUR PJSC. Today this enterprise is the largest Russian manufacturer of a wide range of plastics. The assortment of products includes all types of basic polymers. ZapSibNeftekhim has reached its full capacity in 2020 — 2 million tonnes a year, of which 1,5 million tonnes is polyethylene.
Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC also continues its dynamic development meeting the polymer market’s requirements. Despite stiff competition with importers last year, the enterprise increased supplies of LLDPE to Russian enterprises by 13%. It held its positions in the propylene copolymers and ethylene in the Russian market and keeps developing polystyrene segments for heat insulation and food packaging.
Today the enterprise manufactures up to 265,000 tonnes of benzene a year. This enabled to refuse to purchase benzene from others by boosting the competitiveness of styrene plastics. In 2019, Nizhnekamskneftekhim augmented supplies of linear low-density polyethylene to Russian enterprises by 23,000 tonnes.
In nine months 2020, Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC held around 40% of linear low-density polyethylene made in Russia, 12% of polypropylene and 77% of Russian-made polystyrene. Plastics are mainly supplied to the Russian domestic market, while a big part of the rubber manufactured by the company is exported. “Exports account for about half of the revenue,” Aleksandr Shurakov, director of the group of corporate ratings at NCR agency, told Realnoe Vremya.
Production of new polypropylene grades
Polypropylene is the only basic polymer (excluding LLDPE) whose production and consumption has been growing every year since 2013. Polypropylene doesn’t have any key area of application the state of the whole market depends on. Such a versatile consumption structure allows PP to go through crises of demand when a reduction in some segments is compensated by growth in others.
Domestic polypropylene increased in Russia in 2019, at the same time, import of its different grades went up too. Tobolsk-Polymer (29%) became first in PP production, Nizhnekamskneftekhim (13%) and Poliom (13%) are second, another big player in the PP market is ZapSibNeftekhim (12%), which is followed by Tomskneftekhim (9%) and Neftekhimia (9%).
According to analysts’ forecasts, PP production in Russia will rise to nearly 4,5 million tonnes a year by 2024. The share of the Russian material will significantly increase and total 1,338m tonnes a year by 2024 against 1,116m tonnes in 2020. Imports will amount to just 8%.
Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC produces a wide range of grades: homopolymers, statistic and block copolymers. Copolymer salves have increased in the last 6-7 years, which is linked, first of all, with the necessity of import substitution, secondly, with the launch of homopolymer production in Tobolsk in 2013. As time showed, the development of the range of propylene copolymers with ethylene and a shift to their bigger production has turned out to be correct and profitable both for Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC and recyclers in general in Russia and CIS countries.
Given the growing demand (with the launch of new plants of SIBUR, SOCAR), the company’s strategy included the necessity of developing and launching the production of new grades of copolymers, especially high-impact PP. This is why, around 10 grades of propylene copolymer with ethylene were created and have begun to be made since 2015 with the help of specialists of the company’s R&D Centre (РР4222L, PP 4445T, PP 4445U, PP4545S, PP7540U, PP8440R, PP8440T, PP9240N, PP9240P), which is connected with the necessity to create materials that are both resistant and elastic.
In 2020, Nizhnekamskneftekhim PJSC’s РР 7540U polypropylene was recognised a laureate of 100 Best Goods of Russia Russian competition. The petrochemical product made in Russia only the plastics plant won an award in Industrial Goods nomination. Also, in the 14th Open Republican Competition for the Tatarstan Government’s Award, Nizhnekamskneftekhim was awarded a certificate of laureate in Business Perfection. The company will keep diligently working to expand the assortment of grades of plastics to get rid of market segments with excessive demand to other segments that still depend on imports.