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Business Concentrates

March 29, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 13

Computer chip makers study chemical risk to workers

The Semiconductor Industry Association is launching a study of whether or not wafer fabrication workers in the U.S. computer chip industry are experiencing higher rates of cancer than other industrial workers. The study comes as the chemical health risk spotlight zeroes in on the computer industry and electronic chemical manufacturers. Earlier this month, two cases against IBM were resolved. In one, the firm was cleared of charges that chemicals used to manufacture hard drives led to cancer among workers in San Jose, Calif. IBM settled a second case in New York brought by a woman claiming her birth defects resulted from her mother's exposure to chemicals at a semiconductor plant. More than 200 cases have been filed against IBM alone (C&EN, March 8, page 8). SIA says it is pursuing the study despite the conclusion of an independent scientific advisory committee it formed in 1999 that there is no evidence of increased risk of cancer among chip fabricators. According to SIA, a 2002 Bureau of Labor Statistics report found the incidence of work injuries and illnesses was 1.9 per 100 full-time workers in chip fabrication, ranking the industry as better than 95% of all other durable-goods manufacturing industries surveyed.


Crompton sells seed coatings

Crompton has signed an agreement to sell its half of the Gustafson seed treatment business to partner Bayer CropScience for $124 million. The deal will give Bayer full control of Gustafson, which employs 250 people and has annual seed treatment and equipment sales of $130 million in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Crompton will continue to supply its seed treatment products through Gustafson; its seed treatment sales outside of North America are unaffected by the deal. Crompton CEO Robert L. Wood says proceeds from the sale will go to reduce the firm's debt.


Serono enters discovery pact

Serono and Structural GenomiX have signed a drug discovery agreement under which Serono will use SGX's fragments of active structures (FAST) methodology to generate lead compounds for selected kinase and phosphatase targets in an undisclosed therapeutic area. Serono will cover development and commercialization costs and gain worldwide rights to drugs that emerge from the collaboration. SGX will receive up to $68 million in up-front and milestone payments in addition to royalties. FAST uses crystallographic screening and combinatorial chemistry to identify small-molecule inhibitors of drug targets.


Akzo studies fuel-cell plant

Akzo Nobel's base chemicals unit has launched a three-year research study into the feasibility of installing a fuel-cell-based power plant at its chlor-alkali facility in Botlek, the Netherlands. Akzo will work with NedStack, an Akzo spin-off set up in 1998 to develop proton-exchange membrane fuel cells. The power plant would consume by-product hydrogen from the chlor-alkali facility. Akzo expects the use of fuel cells will yield a power savings of about 20%.


Hatco signs nanotech deal ...

Hatco Corp. has formed a joint technical agreement with ApNano Materials (formerly Applied NanoMaterials) to develop novel lubricants based on ApNano's technology. ApNano, incorporated in the U.S. in 2002, has an exclusive license to make and sell nanomaterials discovered at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. It is adopting Weizmann's inorganic nanostructures--nested spheres and tubes--for use in a variety of industries. Hatco is a major producer of synthetic lubricants.


... Altana takes a stake in Nanophase

Altana Chemie, the specialty chemicals arm of Altana Group, has acquired a 7% stake in Nanophase Technologies for $10 million. The German company has also formed an exclusive global partnership with Nanophase. The partnership will collaborate in developing nanomaterials for applications in paints, coatings, and plastics and expects initial market introduction of some developed products this year.


Ciba boosts antioxidants

Ciba Specialty Chemicals will expand the capacity of its Shanghai antioxidants plant by 10,000 metric tons per year. At the same time, the firm says it is transferring existing antioxidants production from its Kaohsiung, Taiwan, plant to Shanghai to take advantage of economies of scale and back-integration to raw materials. Ciba says it will invest in the Taiwan plant's ability to supply the personal care market.


P&G, Kaneka in polymer deal

Procter & Gamble Chemicals and Japan's Kaneka have finalized a joint agreement to complete the research and development of poly(3-hydroxybutyrate-co-3-hydroxyhexanoate), a biobased plastic com- mercially known as Nodax H. The two have been working together on Nodax since 2001, but they expect the new agreement to lead to a demonstration of Nodax fermentation followed by the construction of a joint production facility. Nodax features include high-temperature hydrolytic stability as well as good odor and moisture barrier properties for use in films, fibers, and molded articles.


Lyondell and Bayer launch venture plant

Executives press start button on new propylene oxide plant.
Executives press start button on new propylene oxide plant.

Following two years of construction, Bayer and Lyondell Chemical have opened a joint-venture propylene oxide/styrene plant near Rotterdam. The plant has annual capacity for 285,000 metric tons of propylene oxide, about 5% of global capacity. The facility is the first in Europe for Lyondell, the world's leading propylene oxide producer. Bayer MaterialScience board member Tony Van Osselaer notes that the plant provides back-integration for Bayer's polyurethane and acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene businesses.


IMC completes soda ash sale

IMC Global has sold the last of its remaining discontinued chemical operations: a 1.5 million-ton-per year soda ash plant and a boron chemicals operation in Searles Valley, Calif., and a specialty borates plant in Lardellero, Italy. The California operations were bought by Sun Capital Partners, a Boca Raton, Fla.-based investment firm. The Italian borates plant was purchased by Tuscan Stars GSA.


Degussa invests in adhesives

Degussa will increase capacity for its Vestoplast amorphous poly a-olefins in Marl, Germany. The company says it will spend in the "double-digit" millions of euros to add a fourth line, expanding capacity 35% to 75,000 metric tons per year by 2005. According to Degussa, new manufacturing technology will allow it to expand Vestoplast sales beyond hot-melt adhesives and roofing membranes and into plastics modification.


Eastman sees higher earnings

Eastman Chemical expects first-quarter earnings to beat the high end of analysts' estimates--30 cents per share. The company bases its forecast on cost reduction efforts, increased focus on more profitable businesses, and the impact of favorable currency exchange rates, particularly for its coatings, adhesives, specialty polymers, and inks segment and its specialty plastics segment. Eastman also expects strong sales volume and revenues in its polymers business; however, polymer margins will be negatively affected by high raw material and energy costs and overcapacity in the North American polyethylene terephthalate market.


HGS narrows drug focus

Human Genome Sciences will reduce its workforce by about 200 positions, or 20% of its staff, as part of a plan to focus on bringing its top five drugs to market. The firm says it is looking at business options for its early-stage pipeline. Separately, HGS Chairman and CEO William A. Haseltine says he will retire later this year after a successor has been identified. A scientist, Haseltine cites the firm's need for an executive with late-stage development and marketing skills.


Amaethon signs aroma deal

Amaethon, the technology commercialization business formed last November by England's University of York and venture-capital company IP2IPO, has signed its first deal, a flavor and fragrance chemicals research collaboration with Yule Catto's Oxford Chemicals unit. Oxford will cofund a project directed at creating new enzyme-based routes to aroma chemicals. Oxford will have rights to exploit the research in flavors and fragrance. Amaethon will retain rights in all other applications.


Trade deficit shrinks a lot

Huge swings in chemical trade data are normal, and nobody seems to know why. In January, the U.S. chemical trade deficit showed an extraordinary contraction, following a huge expansion in December. The January deficit was just $280 million, compared with a $1.56 billion deficit in December. November's deficit was only $78.8 million. In January 2003, the deficit stood at $1.07 billion. The January 2004 data from the Commerce Department show exports were up 2.7% from December and 9.1% from January 2003 to $7.85 billion. The value of imports fell 11.7% from the previous month and 1.6% from the same month a year earlier to $8.13 billion.


Novozymes will acquire 51% of South Africa's Enzymes S.A. Ltd. by July 1, taking full control of the company. Novozymes says it plans to increase its focus on the South African market, which it exited during the apartheid sanctions from 1986 to 1996.

Ultrafine will provide process development, scale-up, and cGMP manufacturing of Avidex's lead compound, the CD80 inhibitor RhuDex. Avidex plans to start clinical trials of RhuDex in early 2005.

Shell Chemical has opened The Answer Lab, which provides the services of Shell's analytical services group to the broader chemical marketplace. The service has operated on a low profile for the past year.

Bayer MaterialScience will supply raw materials to Prague-based Tanex Plasty, a developer of polyurethane systems. Bayer says the agreement continues its development of a network of polyurethane systems houses.

DuPont Invista's former president, Steven R. McCracken, has joined the glass maker Owens-Illinois as president and CEO.

Ashland is selling its 38% interest in the Marathon Ashland Petroleum oil refining joint venture to its partner, Marathon Oil Corp., in a deal valued at more than $3 billion. The sale includes Ashland's maleic anhydride business, which consists of a plant at MAP's refinery in Catlettsburg, Ky.

Wacker has indefinitely postponed the initial public offering of its Siltronic unit because of stock market uncertainties following the Madrid bombings. Earlier in March, Siltronic said it would sell shares on the German stock markets in an offer that would have raised more than $1 billion.

Evotec OAI will work with Panacos Pharmaceuticals in a medicinal chemistry collaboration to identify drug candidates for HIV infection treatment. Separately, Evotec Neurosciences has licensed a Roche patent portfolio covering antagonists for the treatment of central nervous system disorders.


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