PATENTSCOPE will be unavailable a few hours for maintenance reason on Tuesday 19.11.2019 at 4:00 PM CET
Search International and National Patent Collections
Some content of this application is unavailable at the moment.
If this situation persists, please contact us atFeedback&Contact
1. (WO2007003322) POLYETHYLENE COMPOSITION OF IMPROVED PROCESSABILITY
Note: Text based on automatic Optical Character Recognition processes. Please use the PDF version for legal matters

Polyethylene composition of improved processability

The present invention relates to a multimodal polyethylene composition having an improved balance of processability and mechanical properties, and to articles comprising the polyethylene composition, in particular wires/cables as well as polymeric films.
For linear low density polyethylene (LLDPE), there is a broad range of possible applications such as for wire and cable applications (in particular as a a layer material) and film applications (e.g. blown films, cast films). Linear low density polyethylene has essentially a linear backbone with only short chain branches. Since it provides a good balance of processability and mechanical properties, it has become an alternative to low density polyethylene (LDPE) prepared in a high pressure process and having a high number of long chain branches.
For instance cables, such as power or communication cables, usually comprise an inner core which comprises a conducting element, such as a metal wire or a glass fibre, and one or more layers for shielding, protecting and insulating purposes. The outermost of these layers having mainly protective purpose is usually referred to as outer sheath or outer jacket.
It is known to produce outermost protective sheath layers from polymer compositions comprising mainly polyolefins, in particular polyethylenes, e.g. LDPE and LLDPE. The diverse application fields for the various kinds of cables make it necessary that the outer jacket meets a number of requirements which at least partly may be contradictory to each other.
When preparing cable layers, e.g. jacketing layers, or films by extrusion, there are several parameters which are relevant for processability. These include output rate, melt pressure, extruder motor power and surface finish. For a specific extrusion temperature, it is desired to keep melt pressure as low as possible, thereby lowering the stress exerted on the extruder equipment. Furthermore, a material of low melt pressure would enable higher output rate. From an economical point of view, it is desired to have high output rate at low extruder motor power.

Particularly in case of jacketing layers and film applications also surface finish is another relevant property of low density polyethylene materials. It was known to lower melt flow rate for improving surface smoothness. However, low MFR values normally have a detrimental effect on processabiliy, e.g. on melt pressure and output rate.
For improving processability, it was suggested to add low density polyethylene, prepared in a high pressure process, to linear low density polyethylene. However, this might adversely affect mechanical properties including heat deformation.
It is of crucial importance that an improvement in processability is not achieved on the expense of mechanical properties. Relevant mechanical properties that could be mentioned are e.g. tensile strength and environmental stress cracking resistance. Thus, when seeking for solutions to improve processability, these properties should be improved as well or at least be maintained on a sufficiently high level.

As already discussed above, low density polyethylene as well as linear low density polyethylene are frequently used e.g. as jacketing materials for telecommunication cables. To protect the copper or optical fibre core from water intrusion, filling compounds are normally used. Thus, the polymeric jacketing material should have high compatibility with filling compounds and the jacket should still have excellent mechanical properties after exposure to filling compounds. Commonly filling compounds consist of petroleum jellies.

Another aspect that has to be taken into account for wire and cable applications as well as film applications is shrinkage behaviour. It is desired that the polymeric compositions show low shrinkage.
In EP 0907682, a bimodal polyethylene composition is disclosed which can be used as a jacketing material for cables, in particular telecommunication cables. The material disclosed in the examples have a molecular weight distribution below 15.

It is an object of the present invention to provide a polyethylene composition which meets the requirements and overcomes the problems outlined above.

In particular, it has now surprisingly been found that the present combination of low density and broad molecular weight distribution provides a polyethylene composition which has a very advantageous processability-mechanical property balance for many end applications including wire and cable and film applications.

The polyethylene composition of the invention comprises a base resin comprising at least two different ethylene polymer fractions, namely a first fraction (i) of an ethylene homo- or copolymer and a second fraction (ii) of an ethylene copolymer, wherein the base resin: (1) has a density of less than 0.940 g/cm3, (2) is multimodal at least with respect to molecular weight distribution (MWD) and (3) has a broad MWD which can be defined within this invention in alternative ways.
Accordingly, the polyethylene composition of the invention is selected from the equally alternative compositions (1) to (4) as defined below. It is understood that each of the definitions of composition (1) to (4) are independent, or alternatively one of the compositions (1) to (4) may further be defined with the features of one or more of the other compositions (1) to (4).
The broad MWD, which contributes very desirably to the processability and provides feasible means for further tailoring the mechanical and/or processing properties of the polymer depending on the needs desired for the end-use application, can be measured by SEC (also known as GPC), whereby it is expressed as Mw/Mn, or by a rheological measurement, like Shear Thinning Index (SHI) -measurement, which is a very sensitive indicator of the MWD. Moreover, further indicators of the broad MWD of the invention are the melt flow rate (MFR) and the melt flow rate ratio (FRR) between two MFR' s measured at different loadings. All these measurements are known and further defined below under "Definitions and Determination Methods".
Furthermore, by providing two fractions which differ in weight average molecular weight, a multimodal base resin is obtained.

Usually, a polyethylene composition comprising at least two polyethylene fractions, which have been produced under different polymerisation conditions resulting in different (weight average) molecular weights for the fractions, is referred to as "multimodal". The prefix "multi" relates to the number of different polymer fractions the composition is consisting of. Thus, for example, a multimodal composition consisting of two fractions only is called "bimodal".
The form of the molecular weight distribution curve, i.e. the appearance of the graph of the polymer weight fraction as function of its molecular weight, of such a multimodal polyethylene will show two or more maxima or at least be distinctly broadened in comparison with the curves for the individual fractions.
For example, if a polymer is produced in a sequential multistage process, utilising reactors coupled in series and using different conditions in each reactor, or when a polymer is produced in a process comprising a single stage in which two or more different catalysts are used, the polymer fractions produced in the different reactors, or by the different catalysts, respectively, will each have their own molecular weight distribution and weight average molecular weight. When the molecular weight distribution curve of such a polymer is recorded, the individual curves from these fractions are superimposed into the molecular weight distribution curve for the total resulting polymer product, usually yielding a curve with two or more distinct maxima.

The first fraction (i) of the polyethylene composition of the invention is either an ethylene homo- or copolymer. Within the context of the present invention, the homopolymer is defined as having a density 0.965 g/cm3 or more.
When using a copolymer, it is preferably obtained by copolymerization of ethylene with at least one C3 to C2o alpha-olefin comonomer. Preferred comonomers are propylene, 1-butene, 1-hexene, 1-octene or mixtures thereof.

The second fraction (ii) of the present invention is an ethylene copolymer. Preferred comonomers are those already mentioned above.

Accordingly, the fractions (i) and (ii) can also be multimodal with respect to the comonomer distribution.

Preferably the comonomer content of the base resin is up to 8 mol-%, more preferably up to 5 mol-%.
Further preferably, the comonomer content of the base resin is at least 1.0 mol-%.

The low molecular weight fraction (i) preferably has a comonomer content of 0.0 to 4.0 mol-%, more preferably of 0.05 to 4.0 mol-%.
Thus as the first alternative of the polyethylene composition of the invention, a polyethylene composition (1) is provided, which comprises a base resin comprising at least
(i) a first fraction which is an ethylene homo- or copolymer, and
(ii) a second fraction which is an ethylene copolymer,
wherein the first fraction (i) has a lower weight average molecular weight than the second fraction (ii), and the base resin has a density of less than 0.940 g/cm3 and a shear thinning index SHI2.7/2ΪO of at least 25.
The base resin (1) may further comprises a third fraction (iii) which is an ethylene homo- or copolymer having a weight average molecular weight which is higher than the weight average molecular weight of the first fraction (i) and is different from the weight average molecular weight of the second fraction (ii).
In a preferred embodiment, the third fraction (iii) has a higher weight average molecular weight than the second fraction (ii).
In addition to tailoring the fractions (i) and (ii), by introducing one or more further different polyethylene fraction(s) is one very feasible way of achieving the broad MWD.

As a second alternative of the polyethylene composition of the invention, a polyethylene composition (2) is provided, which comprises a base resin comprising at least
(i) a first fraction which is an ethylene homo- or copolymer,

(ii) a second fraction which is an ethylene copolymer, and

(iii) a third fraction which is an ethylene homo- or copolymer,
wherein the first fraction (i) has a lower weight average molecular weight than the second fraction (ii), the third fraction (iii) has a weight average molecular weight which is higher than the weight average molecular weight of the first fraction (i) and is different from the weight average molecular weight of the second fraction (ii), the base resin has a density of less than 0.940 g/cm3 and a flow rate ratio FRR21/2 of at least 45, more preferably at least 65.
Equally both for the composition (1) and the composition (2) of the present invention, the base resin has preferably a density of less than 0.940 g/cm3, preferably a density of less than 0.935 g/cm3. Preferably, the base resin has a density of more than 0.910 g/cm3, more preferably more than 0.920 g/cm3, and even more preferably more than 0.922 g/cm3.
Furthermore, the base resin of the composition (1), and preferably of the composition (2), of the invention has a shear thinning index SH∑2.7/21o of at least 25. The SHI is the ratio of the viscosity of the polyethylene composition at different shear stresses. In the present invention, the shear stresses at 2.7 kPa and 210 kPa are used for calculating the SHI2.7/210 which may serve as a measure of the broadness of the molecular weight distribution.
Preferably, equally both for the composition (1) and composition (2) the SHI2 7Z210 of the base resin is at least 30, more preferably at least 40. The upper limit is typically less than 100.

For the composition (2) and preferably for the composition (1) the base resin has a flow rate ratio FRR21/2 , which is the ratio of melt flow rate MFR21.6kg/19o°c to melt flow rate MFR2.16kg/190°c, of at least 45. Flow rate ratio can be used as an estimation of molecular weight distribution, wherein high values indicate a broad molecular weight distribution. More preferably, the base resin has a flow rate ratio FRR21/2 of at least 65, still more preferably of more than 70, still more preferably of more than 80, still more preferably of more than 90, still more preferably of more than 95, or still more preferably of more than 100.
Preferably, the base resin has a flow rate ratio FRR21/2 of less than 200, more preferably of less than 170, and most preferably of at most 150.
Preferred FRR21/2 ranges for instance for wire and cable applications and film applications are e.g. from 70 to 160. For wire and cable applications the lower limit of FRR21/2 is preferably 100.
In preferred embodiment of composition (2), and when present in composition (1), the third fraction (iii) has a weight average molecular weight of more than 90000, the upper limit being typically up to 2000000, typically up to 1000000, preferably 120000 to 600000, e.g. or more than 200000. In a preferred embodiment, the third fraction (iii) has a higher weight average molecular weight than the second fraction (ii).
For composition (2) and, when present in composition (1), the third fraction (iii) is preferably a homopolymer, whereby the term "homopolymer" is as defined above. In case the third fraction (iii) is a copolymer, it is preferably obtained by copolymerization of ethylene with at least one comonomer selected from C3 to C2o alpha-olefins. Preferred alpha-olefins are those already mentioned above.
For composition (2) and, when present in composition (1), the third fraction (iii) can be blended with the first fraction (i). As will be explained below in greater detail, the blend can be obtained by mechanical blending or reactor blending, preferably preparing one of these fractions in a first reactor, transferring the reaction product to a second reactor and preparing the other fraction in the presence of the fraction prepared first.
The fraction (i) of the composition (1) and composition (2), has a density within the range of 0.900 to 0.970 g/cm3. Preferably, the density of fraction (i) is higher than 0.920 g/cm3, more preferably higher than 0.931 g/cm3, even more preferably higher than 0.935 g/cm3, or at least 0.940 g/cm3. Preferably, the density of the fraction (i) is less than 0.955 g/cm3, or 0.952 g/cm3 or less.

Preferably, the blend of the first fraction (i) and the third fraction (iii) of composition (2), and the optional blend of the first fraction (i) and the third fraction

(iii) of the composition (1), has a density within the range of 0.900 to 0.970 g/cm3.

Preferably, the density of the blend of the fractions (i) and (iii) is higher than 0.920 g/cm3, more preferably higher than 0.931 g/cm3, even more preferably higher than

0.935 g/cm3, or at least 0.940 g/cm3. Preferably, the density of the blend of fractions (i) and (iii) is less than 0.955 g/cm3, or 0.952 g/cm3 or less.

Equally both for composition (1) and (2), the fraction (i) or preferably, when present, the blend of the first fraction (i) and the third fraction (iii), typically has a melt flow rate MFR2.16kgz19ooc of more than 20 g/10 min. More preferably, MFR2. i6kg/i 90°c of the fraction (i) or of the blend of fractions (i) and (iii) is higher than 50, higher than 200, higher than 250, or even higher than 300 g/10 min. If the polyethylene composition shall be used for wire and cable applications, e.g. as a jacketing material, preferred ranges of MFR2.i6kg/i90°c f°r both the fraction (i) and said blend of (i) and (iii) are 100 to 600, 200 to 500, 300 to 400, or 300 to 350 g/10 min. If the polyethylene composition shall be used for the preparation of films, preferred ranges of MFR2.16kg/19o°c for both the fraction (i) and said blend of (i) and (iii) are 20 to 700, 50 to 500, 250 to 350, or 300 to 350 g/10 min.

The following statements are equally applicable to the compositions (1) and (2).

Preferably, the base resin (i.e. either according to the composition (1) or (2)) has a melt flow rate MFR21 6JCgZ19O0C of more than 40 g/10 min. More preferably, the melt flow rate MFR21.6kg/19ooc of the base resin is higher than 60 g/10 min, higher than 85 g/10 min, higher than 90 g/10 min. Preferred MFR21.6kgzi90°c ranges for wire and cable applications and film applications are e.g. 90 to 115 g/10 min or 90 to 110 g/10 min. The upper limit is preferably less than 150 g/10 min.

Typically, the base resin has a molecular weight distribution Mw/Mn of more than 10, preferably 15, more preferably more than 22, even more preferably more than 30. Preferably, the molecular weight distribution is less than 50, more preferably less than 45.

As the third alternative of the polyethylene composition of the invention, a polyethylene composition (3) is provided, which comprises a base resin comprising at least

(i) a first fraction which is an ethylene homo- or copolymer, and

(ii) a second fraction which is an ethylene copolymer,

wherein the first fraction (i) has a lower weight average molecular weight than the second fraction (ii), the base resin has a density of less than 0.940 g/cm3 and a melt flow rate MFR2i.6kg/i90°c of more than 40 g/10 min, and the fraction (i) has a density of more than 0.931 g/cm3.
Furthermore, as the fourth alternative of the polyethylene composition of the invention, a polyethylene composition (4) is provided, which comprises a base resin comprising at least

(i) a first fraction which is an ethylene homo- or copolymer, and

(ii) a second fraction which is an ethylene copolymer,

wherein the first fraction (i) has a lower weight average molecular weight than the second fraction (ii), the base resin has a density of less than 0.940 g/cm3 and the base resin has a molecular weight distribution Mw/Mn of more than 15.

Just like for the compositions (1) and (2) of the present invention, the compositions (3) and (4) are preferably further defined with the following preferred subgroups and/or optional features.
Equally both for the composition (3) or the composition (4) of the present invention, the base resin has a density of less than 0.940 g/cm3, preferably a density of less than 0.935 g/cm3. Preferably, the base resin has a density of more than 0.910 g/cm3, more preferably more than 0.920 g/cm3, and even more preferably more than 0.922 g/cm3.

Furthermore, the base resin of the composition (3) and the composition (4) of the invention has preferably a shear thinning index SHI2 7/210 of at least 25. The SHI is the ratio of the viscosity of the polyethylene composition at different shear stresses. In the present invention, the shear stresses at 2.7 kPa and 210 kPa are used for calculating the SHI2.7/21o which may serve as a measure of the broadness of the molecular weight distribution.

Preferably, both for the composition (3) and the composition (4) the SHI2.7/210 of the base resin is at least 30, more preferably at least 40. The upper limit is typically less than 100.

Equally for the composition (3) and the composition (4) the base resin has a flow rate ratio FRR21/2 , which is the ratio of melt flow rate MFR21.6kg/19o°c to melt flow rate MFR2. \ 6kg/i90°c5 of at least 45. Flow rate ratio can be used as an estimation of molecular weight distribution, wherein high values indicate a broad molecular weight distribution. More preferably, the base resin has a flow rate ratio FRR21/2 of at least 65, still more preferably of more than 70, still more preferably of more than 80, still more preferably of more than 90, still more preferably of more than 95, or still more preferably of more than 100. Preferably, the base resin has a flow rate ratio FRR2i/2 of less than 200, more preferably less than 170, and most preferably of at most 150.

Preferred FRR21/2 ranges for instance for wire and cable applications and film applications are e.g. from 70 to 160. For wire and cable applications the lower limit of FRR21/2 is preferably 100.

The base resin of the composition (3) or the composition (4) may further comprise a third fraction (iii) which is an ethylene homo- or copolymer having a weight average molecular weight which is higher than the weight average molecular weight of the first fraction (i) and is different from the weight average molecular weight of the second fraction (ii).

In a preferred embodiment, the third fraction (iii) has a higher weight average molecular weight than the second fraction (ii).

In preferred embodiment of composition (3) and the composition (4), the third fraction (iii), when present, has a weight average molecular weight of more than 90000, the upper limit being up to 2000000, typically up to 1000000, preferably 120000 to 600000, e.g. or more than 200000.

Equally for composition (3) and the composition (4) the third fraction (iii), when present, is preferably a homopolymer, whereby the term "homopolymer" is as defined above. In case the third fraction (iii) is a copolymer, it is preferably obtained by copolymerization of ethylene with at least one comonomer selected from C3 to C2o alpha-olefins. Preferred alpha-olefins are those already mentioned above.
Equally for the composition (3) and the composition (4) the third fraction (iii), when present, can be blended with the first fraction (i). As will be explained below in greater detail, the blend can be obtained by mechanical blending or reactor blending, preferably preparing one of these fractions in a first reactor, transferring the reaction product to a second reactor and preparing the other fraction in the presence of the fraction prepared first.

In a preferred embodiment of the composition (3) and the composition (4) , the fraction (i) or, optionally when the composition (3) or composition (4) further comprises the third fraction (iii), then preferably the blend of the first fraction (i) and the third fraction (iii), has a density within the range of 0.900 to 0.970 g/cm3. Preferably, the density of fraction (i) or, optionally, of the blend of fractions (i) and (iii) is higher than 0.920 g/cm3, more preferably higher than 0.931 g/cm3, even more preferably higher than 0.935 g/cm3, or at least 0.940 g/cm3. Preferably, the density of the fraction (i) or of the optional blend of fractions (i) and (iii) is less than 0.955 g/cm3, or 0.952 g/cm3 or less. In case of composition (3) at least the fraction (i) and preferably the optional blend of fractions (i) and (iii) thereof has the density of more than 0.931 g/cm3.
Equally for composition (3) and (4), preferably the fraction (i), or optionally the blend of the first fraction (i) and the third fraction (iii), when present, has a melt flow rate MFR2 16kg/i9ooc of more than 20 g/10 min. Even more preferably, MFR2.i6kg/i90°c of the fraction (i) or of the blend of fractions (i) and (iii) is higher than 50, higher than 200, higher than 250, or even higher than 300 g/10 min. If the polyethylene composition shall be used for wire and cable applications, e.g. as a jacketing material, preferred ranges of MFR2 16kg/i9o°c for both the fraction (i) and the blend of fractions (i) and (iii) are 100 to 600, 200 to 500, 300 to 400, or 300 to 350 g/10 min. If the polyethylene composition shall be used for the preparation of films, preferred ranges of MFR2 ]6kg/i9o°c both for the fraction (i) and the blend of (i) and (iii) are 20 to 700, 50 to 500, 250 to 350, or 300 to 350 g/10 min.

The following statements are equally applicable to the compositions (3) and (4).

In case of the composition (3) and preferably in case of the composition (4), the base resin has a melt flow rate MFR21.6kg/19o°c of more than 40 g/10 min. More preferably, the melt flow rate MFR21 6ICgZ190=C of the base resin is higher than 60 g/10 min, higher than 85 g/10 min, higher than 90 g/10 min. Preferred MFR2 i.6kg/i90βc ranges for wire and cable applications and film applications are e.g. 90 to 115 g/10 min or 90 to 110 g/10 min. The upper limit is preferably less than 150 g/10 min.

Typically, the base resin of the composition (3) has a molecular weight distribution Mw/Mn of more than 10, preferably 15. More preferably Mw/Mn of the composition (3) or (4) is more than 22, even more preferably more than 30. Preferably, the molecular weight distribution is less than 50, more preferably less than 45.

Moreover, the following statements are equally applicable to all four alternative compositions (1) to (4) of the present invention:

The base resin comprises at least fractions (i) and (ii) as defined above, preferably at least fractions (i), (ii) and (iii) as defined above. Thus, as composition (2), also the compositions (1), (3) and (4) comprise preferably a third fraction (iii) as defined above. The amount of the third fraction (iii), if present, is 10 wt% or less, preferably 0.5 to 5 wt%, based on the total weight of the base resin. In wire and cable applications, it can be present even in amounts of 2.5 to 3.3 wt% of the total amount of the base resin depending on the desired wire or cable application.

Preferably fraction (i) is a copopolymer.

Preferably, the low molecular weight fraction (i) is present in an amount of 40 to 70 wt%, preferably 40 to 65 wt%, more preferably 40 to 60 wt%, based on the total weight of the base resin. Preferably, the high molecular weight fraction (ii) is present in an amount of 60 to 30 wt%, preferable 60 to 45 wt%, more preferably 60 to 40 wt%, based on the total weight of the base resin.

Preferably, the base resin as defined above has a melt flow rate MFR2.! 6kg/i 9o°c of at least 0.05 g/10 min, more than 0.15 g/10 min, more than 0.2 g/10 min, or more than 0.5 g/10 min. As an upper limit, a MFR2.16kg/i9o°c value of 4.0 g/10 min is preferably chosen. For wire and cable applications, preferred MFR2.16kg/19o°c ranges are e.g. 0.1 to 4.0 g/10 min, 0.3 to 2.0 g/10 min, or 0.6 to 1.5 g/10 min. For film applications, preferred MFR2.16kg/19o°c ranges are e.g. 0.05 to 4.0 g/10 min, 0.15 to 2.0 g/10 min, or 0.2 to 0.5 g/10 min.

Preferably, the base resin as defined above has a weight average molecular weight of up to 350 000, suitably 90000 to 250000, more preferably 120000 to 200000.

In case a third fraction (iii) is present, its weight average molecular weight is preferably higher than the weight average molecular weight of the second fraction (ii). Preferably, the second fraction (ii) has a melt flow rate MFR2il6kg/19o°c between 0,01 to l g/10 min.

Preferably, the second fraction (ii) has a density between 0.880 to 0.930 g/cm3. Even more preferably, the density of the second fraction is within the range of 0.890 to 0.910 g/cm3.

The composition of the invention covers the base resin as such or any blends with further components including other polymer components for forming a polymer blend as well as additives. Thus e.g usual additives for utilization with polyolefins, such as pigments (for example carbon black), stabilizers (antioxidant agents), antacids and/or anti-UVs, antistatic agents, polymers as carriers for additives or as modification of the performance of e.g. extrudability and utilization agents (such as processing aid agents) may be present in the polyethylene composition. Preferably, the amount of these additives is 10 wt% or below, further preferred 8 wt% or below, of the total composition. The additives can be added, as such or in master batches as known in the field.
In one advantageous embodiment, the present composition comprising the base resin has the given SHI range or any of the preferred SHI ranges as defined above for the base resin.

In another advantageous embodiment, the definitions given above for the base resin (including any optional features and preferable embodiments of the base resin) apply also for the polyethylene composition, preferably for any of the compositions (1) to (4), of the invention comprising the base resin.

The present invention also provides a process for preparing the polyethylene compositions as discussed above, comprising the following steps:
(a) polymerizing ethylene, optionally with at least one alpha-olefin comonomer, to obtain a first polyethylene homo- or copolymer fraction (i), and

(b) polymerizing ethylene with at least one alpha-olefin comonomer to obtain a second polyethylene copolymer fraction (ii),

wherein fractions (i) and (ii) are blended to obtain the base resin.

The process can be used to prepare any of the four alternatives of the present invention.

Blending of the fractions (i) and (ii) can be effected by mechanical blending or reactor blending in a multistage process, preferably preparing one of these fractions in a first reactor, transferring the reaction product to a second reactor and preparing the other fraction in the presence of the fraction prepared first.

Preferably, the base resin is produced in a multistage process wherein the process steps can be carried out in the sequence (a)— >(b) or (b)— >(a).

A multistage process is defined to be a polymerisation process in which a polymer comprising two or more fractions is produced by producing each or at least two polymer fraction(s) in a separate reaction stage, usually with different reaction conditions in each stage, in the presence of the reaction product of the previous stage which comprises a polymerisation catalyst.
Accordingly, it is preferred that fraction (i) and (ii) of the polyethylene composition are produced in different stages of a multistage process.
Preferably, the multistage process comprises at least one gas phase stage in which, preferably, fraction (ii) is produced. Further preferred, fraction (ii) is produced in a subsequent stage in the presence of fraction (i) which has been produced in a previous stage.
For example, in the production of, say, a bimodal polyethylene, a first ethylene polymer fraction is produced in a first reactor under certain conditions with respect to hydrogen-gas concentration, temperature, pressure, and so forth. After the polymerisation in the first reactor, the polymer fraction including the catalyst is separated from the reaction mixture and transferred to a second reactor, where further polymerisation takes place under other conditions.

It is previously known to produce multimodal, in particular bimodal, olefin polymers, such as multimodal polyethylene, in a multistage process comprising two or more reactors connected in series. As instance of this prior art, mention may be made of EP 517 868, which is hereby incorporated by way of reference in its entirety, including all its preferred embodiments as described therein, as a preferred multistage process for the production of the polyethylene composition according to the invention.

Preferably, the main polymerisation stages of the multistage process are such as described in EP 517 868, i.e. the production of fractions (i) and (ii) is carried out as a combination of slurry polymerisation for fraction (i) and gas-phase polymerisation for fraction (ii). The slurry polymerisation is preferably performed in a so-called loop reactor. Further preferred, the slurry polymerisation stage preceeds the gas phase stage.

The resulting end product consists of an intimate mixture of the polymers from the two reactors, the different molecular-weight-distribution curves of these polymers together forming a molecular-weight-distribution curve having a broad maximum or at least two maxima, i.e. the end product is at least a bimodal polymer mixture.

In the preferred embodiment of the polymerisation in a loop reactor followed by a gas-phase reactor, the polymerisation temperature in the loop reactor preferably is 40 to 1100C, preferably between 70 to 1100C and the temperature in the gas-phase reactor is typically 50 to 13O0C, preferably 60 to 115°C.

A chain-transfer agent, preferably hydrogen, is added as required to the reactors, and preferably 100 to 800 moles of H2/kmoles of ethylene are added to the reactor, when the LMW fraction is produced in this reactor, and 0 to 50 moles of H2/kmoles of ethylene are added to the gas phase reactor when this reactor is producing the HMW fraction.

Preferably, the comonomer is added to the low molecular weight fraction (i) mole ratio of alfa-olefin to ethylene being in the range of 0.1 : 1 to 1 :1. More preferred is 0,3:1 to 0,8:1. The high molecular weight fraction (ii) is an ethylene copolymer. Preferred comonomers are those already mentioned above for the first fraction. Preferably, mole ratio of alfa olefin to ethylene is in the range of 0.1 : 1 to 1:1. More preferred is 0,3:1 to 0,8:1.

As polymerisation catalysts, in principle any catalyst which is suitable for producing the present base resin of the invention can be used, including Ziegler-Natta, single site (including metallocene and non metallocene catalysts) or chromium catalysts, preferably Ziegler-Natta or metallocene catalysts.

The base resin of the polyethylene composition according to the invention preferably is produced using a Ziegler-Natta catalyst comprising a group 4 metal compound (of Periodic Table, IUPAC nomenclature of inorganic chemistry, 1989), preferably a Ti-compound, and a halogen- containing magnesium compound.

In one preferable embodiment, the catalyst is a non-silica supported catalyst, i.e. the active components are not supported to an external silica support. Preferably, the support material of the catalyst is a Mg-based support material.

Examples of such preferred Ziegler-Natta catalysts are described in EP 0 810 235. The content of this document in its entirety is incorporated herein by reference, in particular concerning the general and all preferred embodiments of the catalysts described therein as well as the methods for the production of the catalysts.

In another embodiment, the used Ziegler-Natta catalyst is a silica supported catalyst e.g. described in EP 0688794 Al . The content of this document in its entirety is incorporated herein by reference, in particular concerning the general and all preferred embodiments of the catalysts described therein as well as the methods for the production of the catalysts.

Preferably, the multistage process of the present invention further comprises a polymerisation step (c), in any order, for the preparation of the ethylene homo- or copolymer fraction (iii). Preferably step (c) is carried out first, preferably in the presence of a Ziegler-Natta catalyst, followed by reaction steps (a) and (b), and the split between step (c) and reaction steps (a) and (b) is from 0.1:99.9 to 10:90. Alternatively, as mentioned above, mechanical blending can also be used for blending the fraction (iii).

More preferably, the split between polymerization step (c) and reaction steps (a) and (b) is from 0.5 : 99.5 to 7 : 93.

The polymer is preferably an ethylene homopolymer, preferably a high density polyethylene (HDPE). However, it is also possible to use an ethylene copolymer, preferably obtained by copolymerization of ethylene with at least one C3 to C20 alpha-olefin comonomer. Preferred C3 to C20 alpha-olefin comonomers are those already mentioned above with regard to the first and second base resin fraction.

At the polymerisation step (c), preferably all of the catalyst is charged into a loop reactor and the polymerisation is performed as a slurry polymerisation.

For the polymerization step (c), the ratio of H2 feed (in g/h) to C2 feed (in g/h) is preferably in the range of 0 to 0.005.

For the process comprising a prepolymerization step (c), it is again preferred to use the Ziegler-Natta catalysts described above.

In case of a multimodal process, the product obtained in the last step, e.g. step (b), is a mixture of the products obtained from the previous steps. The above given definitions for the fractions, e.g. for fraction (ii) can in that case be calculated using the calculation methods described in the literature.

The present invention also provides an article comprising the polyethylene composition as described above. Preferably, the article is a wire or cable comprising at least one layer which comprises the polyethylene composition of the invention. The layer is preferably a jacketing layer. According to another preferred embodiment, the article is a film comprising at least one layer which comprises the polyethylene composition of the invention.
The composition for the outer sheath layer of the cable preferably is produced in a process comprising a compounding step, wherein the composition of the base resin, i.e. the blend, which is typically obtained as a base resin powder from the reactor, is extruded in an extruder and then pelletised to polymer pellets in a manner known in the art, and finally further processed, e.g. extrudered in a known manner to form a wire or cable layer.

Optionally, additives or other polymer components can be added to the composition during the compounding step, e.g. during the extrusion step for forming the pellets and/or during the extrusion step for forming a layer, such as a cable or film layer.
The cables of the invention in addition to the outermost sheath layer comprise at least one or more power or information conducting elements.
Preferably, the polyethylene composition is used as the cable sheathing composition for producing outer sheath layers for cables, including power cables as well as communication cables. Amongst power cables, mention may be made of high-voltage cables, medium voltage cables, and low voltage cables. Amongst communication cables, mention may be made of pair cables, coaxial cables and optical cables.
Definitions and Determination methods
The terms and determination methods for the measured properties used for defining the invention apply generally both for the description part above and for the examples and claims below, unless otherwise stated:

a) Molecular weight/molecular weight distribution

The molecular weight averages and molecular weight distribution were measured on a Waters Alliance GPCV2000 SEC instrument with on-line viscometer at 140 degrees Celsius using 1,2,4-trichlorobenzene (TCB) stabilized with 2,6-di-tert-butyl-4-methylphenol (BHT) as an eluent. A set of two mixed beds and one 10' A TSK-GeI columns from TosoHaas was used and the system was calibrated with NMWD polystyrene standards (from Polymer laboratories). The analyses were carried out following the principles of standard test methods ISO 16014-2:2003 and ISO 16014-4:2003.

b) Density

Density is measured according to ISO 1183D.

c) Melt Flow Rate/Flow Rate Ratio The melt flow rate (MFR) is determined according to ISO 1133 and is indicated in g/10 min. The MFR is an indication of the flowability, and hence the processability, of the polymer. The higher the melt flow rate, the lower the viscosity of the polymer. The MFR is determined at 19O0C and may be determined at different loadings such as 2.16 kg (MFR2), 5 kg (MFR5) or 21.6 kg (MFR21).

The quantity FRR (flow rate ratio) is an indication of molecular weight distribution and denotes the ratio of flow rates at different loadings. Thus, FRR21/2 denotes the value of MFR21/MFR2.

d) Rheological parameters

Rheological parameters such as Shear Thinning Index SHI and Viscosity are determined by using a rheometer, preferably a Rheometrics Phisica MCR 300 Rheometer, on compression moulded samples under nitrogen atmosphere at 190 0C using 25 mm diameter plates and plate and plate geometry with a 1.2 mm gap. The oscillatory shear experiments were done within the linear viscosity range of strain at frequencies from 0.05 to 300 rad/s (ISO 6721-1). Five measurement points per decade are made.

The values of storage modulus (G'), loss modulus (G") complex modulus (G*) and complex viscosity (η*) were obtained as a function of frequency (ω). η lOO is used as abbreviation for the complex viscosity at the frequency of 100 rad/s.

The definition and measurement conditions are also described in detail on page 8 line 29 to page 11, line 25 of WO 00/22040.

Shear thinning index (SHI), which is correlating with MWD and is independent of Mw, was calculated according to Heino ("Rheological characterization of polyethylene fractions" Heino, E. L., Lehtinen, A., Tanner

J., Seppala, J., Neste Oy, Porvoo, Finland, Theor. Appl. Rheol., Proc. Int.

Congr. Rheol, 1 1th (1992), 1 , 360-362, and "The influence of molecular structure on some rheological properties of polyethylene", Heino, EX., Borealis Polymers Oy, Porvoo, Finland, Annual Transactions of the Nordic Rheology Society, 1995.)

For example, SHI (1/100) value is obtained by calculating the complex viscosities eta(l) and eta(lOO) at a constant shear stress of 1 kPa and 100 kPa, respectively. The shear thinning index SHI(I/ 100) is defined as the ratio of the two viscosities eta(l) and eta(lOO). Correspondingly, the SHI(2.7/210) is defined as the ratio of the two viscosities eta(2.7) and eta(210).

e) Environmental stress cracking resistance (ESCR)
ESCR was evaluated according to CTL: ISO 6259, with a notch applied according to ASTM F 1473. using CTL with different constant stress of 2, 3 and 4 MPa. A 10% Igepal solution was used as medium.

f) Cable samples for the evaluation are extruded as follows.


g) Shrinkage

The shrinkage in percent is measured after 24h in constant temperature (+230C) as well as after 24h at a temperature of +1000C. Cable samples measuring approximately 40cm are measured. Conveniently, the samples are so marked that the measurement after the conditioning can be carried out at the same point on the cable sample.
Should the sample be found to shrink during measurement, marks of about 40cm first have to be made. Then the length is cut and re-measured. Double samples are taken of each cable that is to be analysed. The samples are placed in the room with constant temperature for 24h, whereupon they are measured, and shrinkage values in percent are calculated. AU the samples are then placed on a talcum bed at 1000C for 24h. The samples are measured, and the total shrinkage in percent is calculated on the basis of the initial length.

h) Filler absorption

Filler absorption was measured on plaques, quenched in cool water according to the method as described below under "Compatibility with filling compounds".

i) Mechanical properties
Elongation at break and tensile strength at break were measured according to 22542/ISO 527-2/1 A5B, either on plaques or on cables having a jacket of 1 mm in thickness applied on a 3 mm in diameter aluminium conductor.

j) Heat deformation

This was tested according to EN 60811-3-1 :1995. This was tested on cables 3mm core and lmm jacketing layer extruded directly on the conductor. This property is directly proportional to the density. In this test we have used cool waterbath during extrusion, therefore reproducing the worst case. When the molten plastics meet cold water the density is lower than if the crystallization takes place during slow cooling, see table for results. The indention at 1150C after 4h is recorded and reported as how many % the egg is pentrating the sample thisckness.

k) Melting temperature Tn,, crystallization temperature Tcr, and the degree of crystallinity: measured with Mettler TA820 differential scanning calorimetry (DSC) on 3±0.5 mg samples. Both crystallization and melting, curves were obtained during 10°C/min cooling and heating scans between -10 - 2000C. Melting and crystallization temperatures were taken as the peaks of endotherms and exotherms. The degree of crystallinity was calculated by comparison with heat of fusion of a perfectly crystalline polyethylene, i.e. 290

J/g-

1) Comonomer content (wt%) can be determined in a known manner based on Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) determination calibrated with C13-NMR.

Tested Compositions
The following polymerisation procedure and catalyst were used in all the examples of the invention unless otherwise stated.

All the examples were produced in pilot plant multistage reaction comprising an optional first stage in slurry in a 50 dm3 loop reactor as the polymerization step (c) for producing the third fraction (iii), then followed by transferring the slurry to a 500 dm3 loop reactor wherein polymerisation step (a) was effected in slurry to produce the first fraction (i) and a polymerization step (b) in a gas phase reactor in the presence of the product from the second loop reactor containing optionally the product from step (c) to produce the comonomer containing the second fraction (ii).

The reaction conditions are given in the tables below.

Examples 1-5
Two polyethylene compositions according to the present invention (ExI and Ex2) and three comparative polyethylene compositions have been prepared (CompEx 1- 3) as described. The polymerisation steps (a) and (b) where effected to obtain bimodal examples, i.e. the step (c) was not included in examples 1-5.
The catalyst used in Ex 1-2 and CompEx 1-2 was a Ziegler-Natta type catalyst which corresponds to the one used in EP 6887794, Example 3. Triethylaluminium (TEA) was used as the cocatalyst.
All compositions are bimodal. Further information about each composition is given below:

Table 1: Pro erties of Ex 1-2 and Com Ex 1-2



As additives, 2400 ppm Irganox B225 and 1500 ppm calcium stearate was used.

Table 2: Molecular weight and molecular weight distribution of Ex 1-2

In Ex 1 and 2, the melt flow rate MFR21 6kg/190°c is significantly higher than in the comparative examples. Furthermore, as indicated by FRR21/2 and MWD values, the inventive examples have a broad molecular weight distribution.

CompEx 3 is a linear low density polyethylene (LLDPE) including 15 wt% low density polyethylene to improve processability. Properties of the blend are given in Table 3:

Table 3 : Properties of CompEx 3


In the following, relevant processing properties and mechanical properties of these compositions will be provided and discussed.
Processability
As already discussed above, the processability of a jacketing material includes several parameters e.g. surface finish, output, melt pressure, and extruder motor power. It is important that the processing window is wide since there are many different applications for a jacketing material.
To evaluate the processability, the compositions were extruded at a cable line, lmm thick jacket were applied on a 3mm in diameter aluminum conductor. To stress the material in terms of shrinkage performance the temperature setting was not optimal. The conductor was not preheated, the melt temperature was 2100C and the cooling bath temperature was 23°C. The line speed was 75m/min.
Surface finish
Surface finish was evaluated by visual and hands on inspection.
Previous experience is that the lower the MFR the better is the surface finish. However, all cables produced showed a very smooth surface which is quite surprising considering the high MFR21 values chosen for Ex 1-2.
Output and melt pressure
In Table 4, data from the cable line extrusion test are shown.

Table 4: Cable line extrusion test


The results of Table 4 clearly indicate that the inventive compositions can be extruded at lower pressure and extruder power.

The effect of MFR21.6kg/i90°c on extruder pressure is also shown in Fig. 1. Due to the lower MFR21, CompEx 1-2 need a much higher extruder pressure to have the same output. By blending LDPE and LLDPE (i.e. CompEx 3), it is possible to have an extruder pressure comparable the one of Ex 1-2. However, adding LDPE adversely affects mechanical properties, heat deformation and shrinkage behaviour, as will be shown below.
Environmental stress cracking resistance (ESCR)
The environmental stress cracking was evaluated using CTL with different constant stress. A 10% igepal solution was used as medium. The results are shown in table 5.

Table 5: ESCR results


Mechanical properties Elongation at break and tensile strength are summarized in Table 6. The results demonstrate that the inventive examples have good mechanical properties. In other words, processability has been improved while keeping mechanical properties on a high level.

Table 6: Data about mechanical properties


Shrinkage
Shrinkage values are listed in Table 7.
Table 7: Shrinkage behaviour


The data of Table 7 indicate that the compositions of the present invention show low shrinkage. In particular, it is evident that the improvement in processability of CompEx 3 (e.g. low extrusion pressure) adversely affects shrinkage behaviour.
Film testing
Films were blown on a small-scale film line (Ankutek, build 1997) at 90 rpm with die gap 0.8 mm under std. LLDPE conditions, the die diameter was 50 mm, the Frost Line Height 8 times the die diameter, the screw speed was 90 rpm and the blow up ratio (BUR) was 1 :3. The produced films had a thickness of 40 micron.

Table: Film line melt pressure of Ex. 1 , Ex. 2 and CompEx. 2.


Tear resistance (determined as Elmendorf tear (N))
The tear strength is measured using the ISO 6383/2 method. The force required to propagate tearing across a film specimen is measured using a pendulum device. The pendulum swings under gravity through an arc, tearing the specimen from pre-cut slit. The specimen is fixed on one side by the pendulum and on the other side by a stationary clamp. The tear strength is the force required to tear the specimen.

Dart Drop
Dart drop is measured using ISO 7765-1 method. A dart with a 38 mm diameter hemispherical head is dropped from a height of 0.66 m onto a film clamped over a hole. If the specimen fails the weight of the dart is reduced and if it does not fail the weight is increased. At least 20 specimen need to be tested. A weight resulting failure of 50 % of the specimen is calculated.

Compatibility with filling compounds
The main application for LD and LLD jackets is in telecommunication cables. In many telecables, copper or fiber optical, filling compounds are used to protect them from water intrusion. A petroleum jelly based, Insojell 3332 , is commonly used in copper cables. This filling compound is normally the filling compound that gives the highest absorption.

Two tests are performed, weight increase and the influence on the mechanical properties.
Dumbbells 2 mm thick from pressed plaques were put in Insojell 3332 for 7 days, The samples were put on aluminum rods to enable free access for the petroleum jelly from all sides. The ageing was done at 600C. For the results see table 9.

Table 9: Influence of petroleum jelly


Examples 6-13

In these examples, three polyethylene compositions according to the present invention (Ex 3-5) and five reference materials (CompEx 4-8) were prepared in a pilot plant as described above. In case of examples 3-5 a polymerization step (c) in a first loop reactor was included to prepare the third fraction (iii). As a catalyst for the examples 3-5 a commercial Lynx 200 ™ catalyst as manufactured and supplied by Engelhard Corporation, Pasadena, USA.
Thus, the final composition of Ex.3-5 included three polymer fractions (i), (ii) and (iii).
For the CompEx 4-8 the same catalyst was used as for examples 1-5 above. For preparing CompEx 4-8 no polymerization step (c) was included. Thus, CompEx 4-8 was bήnodal.

CompEx 4 was the same as comparative example 5 but compounded with 15% LDPE. CompEx 5 corresponds to CompEx 1. CompEx 6 is as CompEx5 but compounded with carbon black. All CompEx5, 7 and 8 were natural, i.e. no carbon black or LDPE was added. Further information about these compositions is provided in Table 10.

Table 10: Process conditions and properties for Ex 3-5



temperature 0C 60 60 60 pressure bar 61 60 61 catalyst feed g/h 1 4 1 4 2 3 cocatalyst feed g/h 5 0 5 0 5 0

C2 feed kg/h 1 9 1 7 2 0 H2 feed g/h 0,6
C3 feed kg/h 36 8 35 7 38 7 split wt-% 2 7 2 5 3 0



temperature 0C 80 80 80 pressure bar 56 56 56

C2 concentration mol% 3 9 4 5 4 3

H2/C2 ratio mol/kmol 399 360 390

CVC2 ratio mol/kmol 469 388 421 production rate kg/h 32 31 30 split wt-% 50 9 51 6 51 5

MFR2 g/(10 mm) 350 300 350 density kg/cum 944 947 946 comonomer 1 -butene 1 -butene 1 -butene

Polymerisation step (b)
Conditions and
product (b) obtained after step (b)
temperature 0C 80 80 80 pressure bar 20 20 20

C2 concentration mol% 11 12 11 H2IC2 ratio mol/kmol 34 29 31 C4/C2 ratio mol/kmol 403 455 450 C6IC2 ratio mol/kmol


Table 11: Pro erties of reference materials


In Table 12, molecular weight and molecular weight distribution of Ex 3-5 and CompEx 5 and 8 are summarized. From Table 12, it is evident that the presence of a third fraction (iii) in the inventive compositions significantly broadens the molecular weight distribution, if compared to the reference materials.

Table 12: Molecular weight and molecular weight distribution

In Table 13, the shear thinning index SHI(2.7/210) of Ex 3-5 and CompEx 8 is given.

Table 13: Shear thinning index
Product SHI(2.7/210)
Ex 3 65
Ex 4 60
Ex 5 58
CompEx 4 41
CompEx 5 35
CompEx 6 50
CompEx 8 25 As shown in Table 13, the inventive compositions have high shear thinning index, significantly exceeding the value of the reference material. As already discussed above, high SHI values indicate a broad molecular weight distribution.

The compositions have been subjected to tests for processability and mechanical properties. The results are shown and discussed below.

Surface finish
Surface finish was evaluated by visual and hands on inspection. Two different phenomena were observed, first the surface finish as such but also the shape of the insulation. At higher line speed a wave shape occurred at some of the materials. The former are due to the melt strength and the second is more due to extruder pumping and could possibly be corrected by increased melt temperature. However it indicates a more narrow processing window. Previous experience is that the lower the MFR the better is the surface finish. Although the inventive compositions have much higher MFR, they provide excellent results at these line speeds.
Table 14: Evaluation of surface pro erties


Melt pressure Just like Ex 1-2, the inventive examples 3-5 have low melt pressure at a specific line speed. With CompEx 6-7 (i.e. blends of LLDPE and LDPE), a low melt tension can be obtained as well. However, as will be shown below, in these materials low- melt tension adversely affects tensile strength, heat deformation and shrinkage behaviour.
In CompEx 4, 5 and 8, melt tension is significantly higher.
Melt tension as a function of line speed is shown in Fig. 2.

Mechanical properties

Mechanical properties are summarized in Tables 15 and 16.

Table 15: Mechanical properties measured on plaques


The data of Table 15 show that the inventive examples have good mechanical properties. In particular, when comparing Ex 3-5 with CompEx 6 it is evident that only the inventive examples have an improved balance between processability (e.g. low melt pressure) and mechanical properties.


Shrinkage
24 h shrinkage was measured at 23 °c and 1000C. The results are summarized in Table 17. The inventive examples show good shrinkage performance.

Table 17: Shrinkage behaviour


Compatibility with filling compounds

Two compatibility tests were performed: weight increase and the influence on the mechanical properties.

Dumbbells 2 mm thick from pressed plaques were put in Insojell 3332 for 7 days. The samples were put on aluminum rods to enable free access for the petroleum jelly from all sides. The ageing was done at 700C. The results are shown in Table 18.

Table 18: Results from compatibility tests
Tl- X X X
m ω W m ω
X X X
JeUy ω W W B I E
absorption O o O o
U U U
Change in
Elongation at
break (%) -5.6 -2.9 -3.7 -12.2 -9 -8.8 -0.8
Stress at break
(%) -11.4 -10.3 -17.5 -9.1
Absorption
weight increase
5.61 5.48 5.84 8.24 7.14 7.26 6.79

The materials prepared in a sequential multistage process (i.e. Ex 3-5 and CompEx 4, 5 and 8) have a more pronounced change in mechanical properties than the blend of LLDPE/LDPE. With regard to absorption weight increase, the inventive examples have the lowest values. Thus, considering both effects (i.e. change in mechanical properties as well as change in weight), the inventive materials offer the best compromise.
Heat deformation


Crystallization temperature
In Table 19, crystallization temperatures of Ex 3-5 and CompEx 5 are listed.

Table 19: Crystallization temperature


The increase in crystallization temperature is beneficial for processing, e.g. for film applications, since the high molecular weight fraction (iii) acts as a nucleator increasing the crystallization. This is advantageous for the cooling properties after processing the article.