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Business Concentrates

May 24, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 21

Petrobras unveils chemicals plan

As part of its long-awaited strategic plan, Brazilian state oil company Petrobras has pledged to invest $1.1 billion in Brazilian petrochemical projects through 2010. Most of them are known projects that have been in limbo for years. One of the "principal projects" is a polypropylene plant, likely the one planned for the São Paulo area by Braskem, the country's largest private chemical maker. Braskem has already been negotiating with Petrobras for propylene supply (C&EN, Jan. 12, page 23). Petrobras is reviving plans for a complex making acrylic acid and superabsorbent polymers. Last year, BASF shelved a planned acrylic acid joint venture with Petrobras because of poor market potential. Petrobras also plans to invest in a Braskem-backed ethylene cracker that would be near the Bolivian border and based on Bolivian ethane feedstock. Part of the Petrobras funding will go to completing the Rio Polìmeros ethylene joint venture with local industrial conglomerates near the city of Rio de Janeiro. Petrobras is also considering a phenol plant. Jorge O. Bühler-Vidal, director of North Brunswick, N.J.-based Polyolefins Consulting, is surprised by the plan because he expected Petrobras to announce that it would lead a major reorganization of the Brazilian petrochemicals sector instead of resurrecting plans for the same old projects.

Lonza taps new chief executive

Credit: Lonza Photo
Credit: Lonza Photo

Stefan Borgas, 40, has been appointed CEO of Lonza, effective June 1. He succeeds Markus Gemuend, who advised the Lonza board in January that, in light of the firm's poor performance, he would step down as CEO as soon as a replacement was named. Borgas has been recruited from BASF, where he worked for 15 years; his posts there included regional general management of BASF's fine chemicals business in the Europe/Middle East region and in the U.S.

Two nanotech deals signed

Air Products & Chemicals has formed a joint venture with Germany's Nanogate Technologies that will develop Nano-gate technology for the formation and dispersion of inorganic nanoparticles. The venture, Nanogate Advanced Materials, will focus on market opportunities in functional films, coatings, and electronic displays. Separately, the materials management company Entegris has formed a joint agreement with Carbon Nanotechnologies Inc. to develop new polymer products using CNI's single-walled carbon nanotubes. Entegris says it will incorporate the polymers into its handling and protection products for the semiconductor and other industries.

Mitsui, Idemitsu merge plastics

Mitsui Chemicals and Idemitsu Petrochemical have agreed to merge their polyolefins businesses, creating a $2 billion-per-year venture that will be Japan's largest polyolefins producer. The new firm, to be 65% owned by Mitsui, is expected to be up and running in April 2005. The move was expected following the firms' announcement in February that they were studying ways to cooperate more closely at their adjacent petrochemical plants in Chiba. By combining operations, the companies expect to achieve annual savings of $50 million by 2008.

EU patent talks fail

The European Union's Competitiveness Council could not come to an agreement on establishing a single EU patent at its meeting last week. The result: After decades of negotiations, the single EU patent is effectively dead. The proposal would have allowed a single application in any EU country to provide full protection throughout the EU (C&EN, May 5, 2003, page 22). However, it was a victim of a dispute on the languages that would be used in writing and defending a patent. "All conceivable compromise solutions for the only outstanding issue, which is related to the translation of patent claims, had been tried," a statement from the council said.

Matsushita, Toray slate display plant

Toray Industries and Matsushita Electric, the maker of Panasonic products, will spend $850 million to build the world's largest plasma display panel (PDP) plant. The two formed a joint venture in 2000 to produce PDPs using Toray's barrier rib technology (C&EN, Sept. 23, 2002, page 25). Since then, PDP sales have grown rapidly. From a few hundred thousand units in 2001, Toray expects that the global market will reach 10 million units in 2008. The new Matsushita-Toray plant will have capacity for 3 million units per year, twice the partners' current capacity. It is scheduled to open in Amagasaki, Japan, in November 2005.

Judge out in asbestos cases

A federal appeals court has removed the judge presiding over the asbestos-driven bankruptcy cases of specialty chemical firm W.R. Grace, fiberglass maker Owens Corning, and building materials manufacturer USG. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia removed Judge Alfred M. Wolin after commercial creditors argued that it appeared as if some of his independent advisers were biased in favor of the plaintiffs.

Polyurethane is key to new sound system

New polyurethane-based sound system can be installed behind walls.
New polyurethane-based sound system can be installed behind walls.

The German polyurethane specialist Puren has teamed up with Bayer MaterialScience and Siemens to create a new speaker-free sound system that can be installed in walls, ceilings, and floors. At the heart of the system is a 7-mm-thick polyurethane soundboard made from the Bayer raw materials Desmophen and Desmodur. The system's sound generator sets up vibrations in the soundboard rather than in the usual speaker. Digital controls tune the system to the specific surface material--be it plaster, carpet, or tile--behind which the soundboard is concealed.

BMS, Solvay sign agreement

Bristol-Myers Squibb and Solvay Pharmaceuticals have formed a joint agreement under which they will work on a Solvay compound, SLV319, that is in Phase I clinical trials for obesity and other metabolic disorders. SLV319 belongs to a class of compounds called CB1 antagonists that work by blocking the cannabinoid type 1 receptor. Under the agreement, Bristol-Myers Squibb will pay $10 million up front to Solvay plus unspecified milestone payments. The deal is the latest in a string of partnerships--including a joint development and marketing pact with Sanofi for the blood-clot-reduction agent Plavix--in which Bristol-Myers Squibb is targeting unmet therapeutic areas with high growth potential, according to CEO Peter R. Dolan.

Chemical output jumps in April

U.S. chemical production increased in April, according to seasonally adjusted data from the Federal Reserve Board. The production index for all chemicals rose 0.5% from March to 109.4 (1997 = 100) and was up 3.6% from April 2003. Basic chemicals performed well, with output increasing 1.5% from March to an index of 95.5. Basic chemical output in April was 2.7% ahead of where it had been in the same month last year. The government's estimate of seasonally adjusted capacity utilization for all chemicals in April rose to 75.1% from 74.9% in March and 73.4% in April a year earlier.

DSM adds, loses fermentation ...

DSM's anti-infectives unit will expand a plant in Delft, the Netherlands, that produces 7-ADCA, a cephalosporin antibiotic intermediate. The firm says the 50% expansion will be complete by early 2005, making the plant the largest 7-ADCA facility in the world. Known as ZOR-f, the plant opened in 2001 using a new all-fermentation route. Separately, DSM suffered a fire at a Belvidere, N.J., fermentation plant that makes vitamin C and the infant formula additive arachidonic acid (ARA). Martek Biosciences, DSM's main ARA customer, expects it will lose sales of $5 million to $10 million in the current quarter because of the event.

... and starts U.S. fiber line

DSM has opened its first U.S. line for Dyneema bullet-resistant fiber. The high-performance polyethylene yarn facility in Greenville, N.C., has an annual capacity of 600­750 metric tons and allows DSM to back-integrate production of protective fabric for airplane cockpit doors and lightweight police armor. The fiber line also makes DSM a domestic source of the fiber and allows it to compete for U.S. military contracts. Under an agreement with DSM, Honeywell was once the only U.S. maker of such bullet-resistant fiber, but a spokeswoman for DSM says the relationship between the two firms has since changed.

Genencor debuts sarin neutralizer

Genencor has made research quantities of enzymes that will neutralize sarin and other organophosphate-based nerve agents. The enzymes were developed in collaboration with the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center. The company is providing samples to formulators for development into sprays, foams, and detergents for use by military and civilian first responders. "The recent discovery of a sarin-filled shell in Iraq unfortunately reminds us that these deadly chemical agents will not go away," says Genencor CEO Jean-Jacques Bienaimé. He says the firm is on schedule to commercialize the enzymes later this year.

Chiron spins off powder drug injection unit

A year after it bought British drug company PowderJect, Chiron has spun off the powder-injection part of the firm into a new company, PowderMed, that is backed by $34.5 million in venture capital and headed by Clive Dix, PowderJect's former head of R&D. Chiron's vaccines business will retain a minority stake. Powder injection "has great potential as a novel vaccine delivery technique," affirms John Lambert, president of Chiron Vaccines, but the technology does not fit within his business.


MG Technologies will complete its exit from chemicals with the sale of its Solvadis distribution business to Chemdis, a subsidiary of private equity fund Special Situations Venture Partners. The deal follows the sale of Dynamit Nobel, announced in April.

Johnson & Johnson has acquired Egea Biosciences, a drug development firm with technology for optimizing protein therapeutics. J&J plans to merge the company with its Centocor protein therapeutics unit, which already has a collaboration with Egea.

UCB is building a 12,000-metric-ton-per-year melamine coating resins plant in Shanghai; it should go onstream by late 2005. The company will also improve existing melamine resins plants in Indian Orchard, Mass., and Frankfurt-Fechenheim, Germany.

Methanex has named Bruce Aitken, currently president and chief operating officer, as its CEO. He replaces Pierre Choquette, who is stepping down after leading the company for 10 years. Choquette will continue as chairman.

InMat, a producer of nanocomposite barrier coatings, will receive $1 million from NJTC Venture Fund, an investment fund backed by public and private entities.

Cyclics Corp. has received $4 million in financing from investors, bringing investment to $33 million since it was founded in 1999. The cyclic butylene terephthalate developer will open its first plant at the end of the year in Schwarzheide, Germany.


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