2003 Winner: Outstanding Commercial Achievement in Alberta Science and Technology (>25M)
Aggressive investment in developing and commercializing an innovative technology for producing polyethylene has paid off for NOVA Chemicals. Polyethylene production involves subjecting ethylene to pressure and applying heat in the presence of catalysts to produce polyethylene pellets, called resin. NOVA Chemicals’ Advanced SCLAIRTECH process is a breakthrough that combines innovations in two areas of the production process – reactors and catalysts – to turn out premium polyethylene resins for use in products ranging from shrink-wrap food packaging to plastic tanks and kayaks.
NOVA Chemicals acquired SCLAIR polyethylene solution technology in 1994 and launched an intense R&D program to streamline the process. Instead of using one reactor, the Advanced SCLAIRTECH process uses two, providing more control. It also employs innovative “single site” catalysts that remain stable at high temperatures and impart desired properties to the product. For example, single-site catalysts result in a high clarity film with improved puncture resistance and moisture-vapour transmission to produce food packaging that extends the shelf life of fresh produce from seven days to more than 25 days.
In 2001, NOVA Chemicals took a risk based on pilot plant results and built a world-scale plant beside its existing polyethylene plant at Joffre, Alberta, in order to commercialize the technology as quickly as possible. The plant features several technological firsts, including the world’s largest single-train solution reactor and one of the largest pelletizers in the world. NOVA Chemicals commercialized 16 new polyethylene grades in 2002 and has a goal of 30 by the end of 2003. The company has filed more than 20 families of patents related to the Advanced SCLAIRTECH technology in Canada and other jurisdictions and has sold products from the new process to customers worldwide. The advanced process is already having a major impact on NOVA Chemicals’ performance.
Because of the cost benefit to the customer, resins produced by the Advanced SCLAIRTECH process command premium prices. In addition, NOVA Chemicals plans to generate income from licensing the technology worldwide. Given the state of the economy, the predicted growth rate for polyethylene in North America is only 2.5% for 2001-2003. In comparison, NOVA Chemicals’ overall polyethylene growth rate is predicted to be 7.9% for the same period. The new technology in the Advanced SCLAIRTECH plant contributes to Alberta’s economic prosperity by creating high-tech jobs and by upgrading Canadian resources into a high value-added product – a kilogram of polyethylene product is worth ten times the raw materials it is made from.