Dow Puts More Eggs in PAG Basket


The world’s largest producer of polyalkylene glycol (PAG) is getting even larger: Dow Chemical is adding capacity in Tarragona, Spain, to make an additional 7 million pounds per year of its Ucon synthetic base fluids. In North America, Dow has a multi-million dollar project under way to upgrade PAG compressor lubricants production at Freeport, Texas. And it has just completed a significant upgrade of its West Virginia PAG plant.

The moves are all aimed at meeting strong global demand for synthetic base fluids and industrial lubricants, the company’s Peter Pendergast told Lube Report last week.

“We’ll be turning on the spigot at Tarragona in the third quarter of this year,” said Pendergast, who is Ucon senior marketing manager for North America, based in Midland, Mich. “We need this new capacity because we’re seeing significant growth in PAG demand in Europe, India and China. In addition to that expansion, we have a joint venture in Malaysia, between Dow and Petronas, that produces Ucon base fluids, and we’re expanding our portfolio of products made there, too, adding water glycols, industrial lubricants and quenchants.”

Besides Tarragona, Spain, and Kerteh, Malaysia, Dow produces PAG in Sao Paolo, Brazil, Terneuzen, Netherlands, Freeport, Texas, and South Charleston, W.V. Prior to its current wave of expansions, the combined capacity for the six plants totaled 246,000 metric tons per year, according to Lubes’n’Greases magazine. Other sizable PAG producers on the world stage include BASF, Chemtura, Clariant, Cognis, Croda, Huntsman and Pan Asia Chemical, but Dow has more than triple the capacity of its nearest competitor.

Europe will be the primary market for the material from Tarragona, Pendergast said. He pointed out that the plant is able to take advantage of relatively low raw material costs by tapping Dow joint ventures in the Middle East which produce ethylene oxide and propylene oxide, the building blocks for PAG.

The rotary screw compressor lubricants made at Freeport, Texas, are sold under Dow’s brand and as private-label by compressor OEMs. Pendergast declined to put an exact price on the investment being made there, but said the fluids are increasingly preferred for highly demanding air and gas compressors that need long-life lubricants. “This equipment can run on mineral oil based lubes, but will get much better performance, energy savings and extended equipment life by using PAGs,” Pendergast explained.

“Air compressors are a very aggressive application, with strong potential for air ingression into the lubricants,” explained Technology Leader Martin Greaves, with Dow Chemical in Freeport, Texas. “So thermal and oxidative stability is key. You’ll get 8,000 hours of service life using PAG, versus only 1,500 hours using mineral oil based lubes. In fact, many compressor OEMs have tied their warranties to the use of PAGs.”

Dow’s oldest PAG plant, in South Charleston, W.Va., also got a make-over. The manufacturing control equipment at the plant has been completely refurbished and modernized, yielding a 30 percent gain in capacity and also improving the quality of the fluids produced there. “We moved into the upgraded new control room in just three days’ time, with no disruption in production or customer supply,” Pendergast said. “It came on stream in late March.”

Steven Stanley, Dow business director for performance fluids and specialty chemicals in Midland, added that the South Charleston plant now has better manufacturing parameters, better consistency of product, and more flexibility. “South Charleston will be more capable of handling new products for us, too,” Greaves added, such as a new generation of water glycols and quenchants which Dow plans to introduce in the next 12 months.

These upgrades are all part of Dow’s overall strategy, Stanley said. “We’re changing the profile of Dow, with less emphasis on basic chemistries to more specialties. Ucon products fit into the performance products side of our business, and we’ve got the green light from upper management to invest and grow.” Dow also has a research center going up in India, and the Ucon business will have access to it for serving PAG needs in that region.