Technology and manufacturing group Honeywell is expanding its coal-to-plastics production capacity in China.

The company said that its Honeywell UOP business has broken ground in Zhangjiagang City, Jiangsu Province, for a new facility that will produce materials used to convert methanol from coal into feedstocks for making plastics.

Scheduled to start operating in 2017, the production line will produce catalysts used in Honeywell UOP’s Advanced Methanol-to-Olefins (MTO) process technology.

This expansion represents a significant milestone in enabling China to meet the growing demand for plastics, the company said.

Honeywell UOP developed its MTO process to convert methanol, which can readily be produced from coal or natural gas, into the olefins ethylene and propylene — the primary chemicals used to manufacture plastics. A proprietary catalyst facilitates the conversion of methanol into olefins.

“MTO is an innovative, proven technology that enables countries such as China that are rich in coal, but which have had to import petroleum, to make plastics,” explained Rajeev Gautam, president and CEO of Honeywell’s Performance Materials and Technologies business group. “Honeywell UOP has licensed eight MTO units in China in just the last three years, and this new facility will allow us for the first time to fully manufacture MTO catalysts in China for our Chinese customers.”

Honeywell estimates that China will invest more than $100 billion in coal-to-chemicals technology by 2020, helping to reduce the country’s dependence on imported oil for the manufacture of plastic resins, films and fibers that are used to make millions of different products.

Honeywell opened its facility in Zhangjiagang in 2015. It produces other types of catalysts that are used in Honeywell UOP’s Oleflex process, which converts propane into propylene, and in continuous catalyst regeneration (CCR) Platforming, which is used to produce high-octane gasoline. It also produces adsorbent materials used in refining and petrochemical production and natural gas processing.

The facility incorporates zero-discharge wastewater treatment technology.