An emerging auto industry interest in a new formula for plastics has resulted in a $15 million plant in Taylorsville, N.C., that will supply BMW and other automakers in the Southeast.
The investment will allow Borealis, of Vienna, one of the world's largest producers of polyolefins, with 2018 sales of $9.3 billion, to make a play for the U.S. auto market. The plant will produce two new materials for auto parts that traditionally have been made of steel and aluminum, said Roland Janssen, general sales manager for the Americas at Borealis Compounds Inc.
The project highlights a trend in automotive investment in some states. Manufacturers are not merely looking to add North American capacity for existing products; they often are seeking sites to introduce vehicle technologies that are new to the market.
The North Carolina investment gives Borealis the North American capacity to produce 30,000 metric tons a year of thermoplastic polyolefin and short glass fiber compounds — a material somewhat similar to carbon fiber.
Borealis only began making short glass fiber compounds in 2016. But its acceptance has been rapid as a means of reducing vehicle weight by substituting plastics for metal.
The thermoplastic polyolefin has been adopted for the front-end module of the current Audi Q7 in Europe. The Taylorsville plant will allow Borealis to supply the material to support North American production of that module.
The short glass fiber compounds will go into the production of intake manifolds for a North American customer that Borealis didn't identify. Manifolds typically are made of aluminum or nylon.