ExxonMobil Upgrading PAO Plant


ExxonMobil Chemical says it is upgrading its Beaumont, Texas, polyalphaolefins plant to produce additional PAO products it calls “Group IV-plus.” These enhanced PAOs, to be commercialized in the second half of next year, are being touted for use especially in fully and partly synthetic engine oils, an application where PAOs are aiming to retake lost ground.

“This is a new generation of low-volatility PAO — with primary benefits in the 4-centistoke and 6-centistoke grades — that offers additional value through greater formulation capability and flexibility,” said Chuck Bullock, the company’s PAO marketing manager.

Engine oils formulated with the new PAOs will be able to achieve longer exhaust-system catalyst life, enhanced drain intervals and better cold-cranking simulator performance, he indicated. These improvements will be possible because the new PAOs will offer even better volatility and low-temperature properties, higher viscosity index, and greater blending flexibility than current PAOs.

“The decision to invest in this new PAO product line demonstrates our commitment to continually developing innovative synthetic basestock solutions for our customers,” said Frank Panebianco, global vice president, synthetics, ExxonMobil Chemical. The upgrade in Beaumont will focus on creating the Group IV-plus PAO, rather than boosting capacity, company spokeswoman Sue Berniard added.

The new products will be in addition to and not replace its existing PAOs, which are sold under the SpectraSyn brand. Samples will be available for customers to evaluate later this year. Design and engineering for the plant upgrade are under way with ENGlobal Engineering Inc. While declining to reveal the investment cost of the project, Berniard said construction will begin in fourth-quarter 2004, with startup in third-quarter 2005; PAO supply is not expected to be disrupted during the work.

In recent years,PAOshave been facing tough competition from Group III mineral base oils, which chomped into the biggest market that PAOs enjoyed during the 1990s — automotive engine oils. Group III’s price advantage made it especially attractive to engine oil formulators, and PAO producers like ExxonMobil Chemical and Chevron Phillips Chemical now seem to be fighting back by aggressively developing higher-performing products.

ExxonMobil, Chevron Phillips and BP are among the world’s largest suppliers of PAOs for lubricants. The latter two are also integrated upstream into linear alphaolefin, the building block chemical for PAO. BP, however, recently announced that it wants to sell its entire LAO/PAO operations in order to focus on its energy businesses.

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