UniteChem Group, with global headquarters in Suqian City, Jiangsu (China), is the world’s #1 supplier of high-performance light stabilizers for plastics in a wide range of demanding industrial applications. As one of China’s largest specialty chemicals companies, the Group has diversified activities in R&D, application development, production, sales, trading and machine manufacturing. It specializes in the production of light stabilizers, UV absorbers and other related products. 

With a workforce of about 2,000 employees worldwide, UniteChem generates a turnover of approximately EUR 300 million and supports its growing customer base through several production plants in China and a strong network of sales, service and warehousing facilities throughout Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the Americas. Its operations are fully certified to ISO 9001, ISO 14001, ISO 45001 and OSHAS 18001. The company is a global company, with Chinese roots and local presence. 

Interview with Jan Kreibaum, Global Strategy Director at UniteChem Group.

Easy Engineering: What’s the news about new products? 

Jan Kreibaum: UniteChem Group took the opportunity at the recent K 2022 to showcase various new performance additives, spearheaded by its recently commercialized HALS LS-2020 for fibers and webs of polyolefin and other polymer materials and HALS LS-119 mainly for agricultural, greenhouse and engineering polymer applications in automotive etc. 

Novelties in the portfolio include LS-4050, a low-molecular weight HALS to be officially launched in 2023 for thick-wall items, as well as several halogen-free bisphenol A bis-diphenyl phosphate (BDP) and piperazine pyrophosphate (PAPP) flame retardants for demanding applications such as multi-fiber push on (MPO) connectors, and two high-heat polyamide (PA) stabilizers for automotive parts and fibers. Moreover, UniteChem also shared a first glimpse on new chemistries in the pipeline, such as N-OR HALS products to meet the demands of the important European agricultural films industry, and various nucleating agents for polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene (PE), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), engineering polyester (PBT) and polylactic acid (PLA) formulations. 

E.E: What are the ranges of products? 

J.K: UniteChem specializes in the production of light stabilizers, UV absorbers, antioxidants and other related products to enhance the performance and lifetime of many polymer applications. With our extensive R&D and application development centers, incl. our newest state-of-the-art R&D center in Shanghai opened in 2021, we are continuously widening our product and solution portfolio to meet evolving customer demand. 

E.E: At what stage is the market where you are currently active? 

J.K: The markets in which we are active are very diverse, essentially all markets that include the use of plastics. Key markets include the agricultural film, automotive & appliances, packaging, artificial grass, coatings, elastomers and other markets. Whereas most of these markets are mature, increasing trends in sustainability and other global trends constantly require the development of new solutions. UniteChem plays a major part in this journey by providing a wide range of high-performance additives to increase the performance and especially lifetime of plastics. Our newest R&D center opened in Shanghai in 2021, focusing on developing new products and technologies for our key markets and customers. 

E.E: What can you tell us about market trends? 

J.K: In Europe the EU central government is increasingly pushing for an increase in the plastic recycling rate that in 2021 represented about the 10% of the total plastics converted (5.8m tons recycled out of 57.2m tons produced in 2021). Today there are several EU legislation directives that push for a fixed % of recycled plastic in packaging materials, e.g. the “Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation” that states that by 2030 all packaging applications must be of 35% recycled material, further increasing to 65% by 2040. Chemical recycling is also a growing trend among chemical multinationals incl. LyondellBasell, Borealis, Ineos, TotalEnergies, and others. Together with our customers, UniteChem provides and develops more sustainable materials in addition to the existing growth in mechanical recycling worldwide. 

Similarly, in the US the use of recycled plastics is growing due to new legislations, e.g. in California bill AB793/2020 requires that plastic beverage bottles contain min. recycled plastic of 25% by 2025 and 50% by 2030, or Washington State Senate Bill (SB) 5022, which also sets forth minimum recycled content requirements for plastic bottles at a min. of 15% postconsumer recycled content beginning in July 2023, increasing to 25% in January 2027 and 50% by January 2031. In China the government is strongly guiding the plastic and packaging industry towards sustainability, environmental protection and recyclability with the “Opinions on Further Strengthening the Clean-up of Plastic Pollution”. 

The processing and use of recycled plastic needs different and stronger stabilization vs. virgin plastics due to oxidation that occurred during the lifetime of the recycled items. These trends will drive the additives market automatically by requiring increasing use of high-performance stabilizers. 

Another macro-trend in the plastics industry is the increase in area covered by plastic greenhouses and mulch films due to an increasing demand for higher crop yield and production, matching global population growth. Greenhouse and mulch films are delivering 3-5x the yield of an uncovered area, and are widely used in Asia and other regions with strong population growth. Greenhouse and mulch films accounted for 6.0m tons of plastics in 2018 with an average growth rate of 2.5% foreseen in the current decade 2020-2030. In addition to overall growth in demand for agricultural films, a trend for longer lifetimes from 1 to 4 years also results in an above-average growth rate in the demand of UV stabilizers and other additives. 

E.E: What estimations do you have for 2023? 

J.K: In general the plastic market growth follows the macro-economic trends, in particular for the major large-volume commodity polymers such as PE, PP, PVC, PET, Styrenics, PET & PUR, covering 75% of total annual plastics production. European GPD growth in 2023 is forecast to be 0.3%, though the plastics and additive stabilizers markets are forecast to grow slightly stronger at 0.5% due to the strong increase of recycled plastics (from 5.8m tons in 2021 to 6.3m tons forecast in 2023). On a worldwide basis, 2023 GDP growth forecast is at 1.8%, with the plastics and additive stabilizers markets expected to grow at 2.5%, also pushed by increasing use of recycled plastics and expansion in the agricultural film market. These increasing growth rates will strongly impact demand for primary (phenols) and secondary (phosphites) antioxidants as well as for UV stabilizers. More demanding technical requirements expected within specialty plastic will drive the demand and innovation trends in the flame retardant additives and the clarifier additives markets, especially in Asia. UniteChem looks into the future with confidence as we provide and continue to expand our wide product range and capabilities to meet the increasing demands driven by these trends.