TPC Thinks Big on PIB

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TPC Groups board approved funding towards the next engineering phase of a third polyisobutylene production unit at its Houston facility. PIBs are used as a chemical intermediate in lubricant additives and as base stocks in lubricants.

The funding amount was not disclosed. In early 2013, TPC began an expansion effort to debottleneck existing PIB capacity and build additional capacity to meet customers current and future needs. The company supplies the chemical from its Houston plant, as well as from product terminals in Houston and near Chicago, Ill.

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The project is targeted to satisfy future demand growth, especially that resulting from anticipated changes in lubricating oil standards beginning in January 2017, TPC said in a news release. These higher standards are driving increased use of highly reactive polyisobutylene, which TPC Group manufactures using its proprietary process. TPC is in discussion with its customers regarding definitive off-take commitments for the third production unit, and agreements for these commitments are anticipated by the end of this year.

Company spokesman Sara Cronin told Lube Report, the standard change referred to is GF-6, and it is primarily for additives. The American Petroleum Institute is scheduled to begin licensing for GF-6, the next passenger car engine oil upgrade, in January 2017.

TPC is also continuing to debottleneck its existing PIB capacity. The company said it has increased capacity more than 15 percent since 2012 with additional debottlenecking capacity underway in 2014. Cronin said the company doesnt typically disclose its PIB production capacity. According to the 2013 Nonconventional Base Stock Guide from LubesnGreases magazine, TPCs Houston plant had 117,500 metric tons per year capacity, based on data disclosed when TPC was a publicly held company. Adding 15 percent, or 17,625 mt/y, results in expanded capacity of 135,125 mt/y.

This debottlenecking effort is targeted to supply the current and near term needs of our customers in the lubricant additives, sealants, adhesives and industrial lubricants segments, the company stated.

PIBs are used as base stocks in lubricants – sometimes as an alternative to bright stock – and as a component in metal forming fluids, gear oils, greases and two-cycle oils. They are also used in other applications such as caulks, sealants, adhesives and rubber. Highly reactive PIBs (with alpha-vinylidene content above 75 percent) are used as dispersants in lubes and fuels, and to make other additives.

In 2012, TPC Groups board approved a $265 million strategic project to produce up to 650 million pounds per year of isobutylene, which is used in making PIB.