The partners are now making these compounds on a pilot scale, with a pilot unit in China and one at the Versalis site in Ravenna, Italy.
“In the meantime, we are engineering two elastomer modifying plants for the combined technology for the Qingdao site – which is owned by Ecombine – and an additional solvent-treatment recycling unit, which is needed to make this combined technology work,” said Lombardini.
Versalis, continued Lombardini, has already delivered one of these two plant engineering designs and construction work has started.
“The units we are delivering for the site are solution SBR and polybutadiene, modified technologies and the solvent-treatment unit,” he added.
The Qingdao plant, which Lombardini described as “a small complex but the first in the world”, is to launch in 2017, with the overall capacity of 130 kilotonne per annum (ktpa).
On the business side of the partnership, Versalis intends to commercialise this technology for its key tire-producing customers.
While the Chinese partners will sell the product in the already-large and growing Chinese market, Versalis believes that it will have a major work to do to prove the product to its “more established customers”.
Among other challenges facing Versalis, and any other supplier, is running plants at full capacity with the highest margins.
And to achieve that, a company should have a flexible products portfolio and the capability to renew it, explained Lombardini, citing a new EPDM project at Versalis.
“We recently completed the first phase of the redesign of our entire EPDM portfolio.
“For EPDM we have a slurry technology – which can make things that other technologies cannot do, such as high molecular weight. But the process can also introduce some negative impacts on the quality, such as the residual content of catalysts,” explained the Versalis boss.
In its redesign, Versalis has introduced a new catalytic system, which is capable of producing high-standard EPDM and has substituted most of its EPDM products.