Apalene Builds PAO Plant in China

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A start-up research and development company has begun building a demonstration plant in East China that is designed to make metallocene polyalphaolefin, part of the country’s growing interest in the synthetic base stocks.

Officials with Apalene Technology Co. said the plant near the coastal city of Hangzhou should open by the end of 2022 and that it will have capacity to make 10,000 metric tons per year.

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Apalene hopes the initial facility will attract customers and perhaps partners that will enable it to expand the plant to 30,000 t/y. It would also like to conduct an initial public stock offering by 2025.

David Du, the company’s vice president for sales and marketing, said during a Jan. 21 interview, that the plant will be able to make high- and low-viscosity PAO and that Apalene intends to be a PAO supplier but is also open to licensing the technology to other companies wanting to enter the PAO business.

“Based on our own financial background, it is quite difficult to expand quickly into the PAO business,” he said. “We can do the high-viscosity grades ourselves, but for light-viscosity we can also license to other companies.”

Apalene was founded by CEO Dean Wei, who for 15 years has served as president of APAC Technology Group, which is located in Suzhou, China, and which researches and develops specialty chemical. APAC Technology is a sister company of APAC Pharmaceutical LLC, which is headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, United States, and which provides chemistry and manufacturing solutions for pharmaceutical, bio-tech and specialty chemical companies.

Apalene originated from research into metallocene catalysts, Du said. Wei initially thought it would lead to a business that supplied catalysts, but after developing catalysts to produce PAO, the decision was made to enter that field.

The company declined to disclose the cost of the demonstration plant, but Du said Apalene said three investors financed the project. An engineering, procurement and construction contract was awarded last year, and groundwork for construction is now underway. Du said the company has also secured feedstock supply.

Apalene said it has previously built and operated a pilot plant that used its process to make PAOs with viscosity grades ranging from 2 to 100,000 centiStokes.

State-owned oil giant PetroChina recently opened a 10,000 t/y PAO plant in Lanzhou, China, saying that it uses technology developed in China and that it planned to offer the technology to other producers. PAO demand in China has been relatively scant until now, but Du said Apalene expects demand to grow at a significant pace now as the quality of lubricants consumed in the country rises.