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Business Concentrates

January 3, 2005 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 83, Issue 1


Solvay ends year with moves in chemicals, pharmaceuticals

In a flurry of year-end activity, Solvay has announced major moves in specialty polymers, hydrogen peroxide, and pharmaceuticals. The company's advanced polymers business will build a $50 million-plus sulfone polymers plant at a location to be decided in the first quarter of this year. The unit, which will triple Solvay's capacity for polyether sulfone and polyphenyl sulfone, is expected to open in 2006. Solvay already produces the polymers in Marietta, Ohio, and the monomer 4,4´-dichlorodiphenyl sulfone in Augusta, Ga. In hydrogen peroxide, Solvay will use a new high-productivity technology to boost the capacity of its Deer Park, Texas, plant by 60% to 118,000 metric tons per year. In parallel, the company will permanently deactivate its mothballed Deer Park capacity, which was taken off-line in 1999. Solvay is also planning a hydrogen peroxide plant in Chile using its new technology. Separately, Solvay is acquiring, for roughly $100 million, NeoPharma, a venture-capital-supported spin-off from the University of Uppsala, Sweden. Neopharma has a novel therapy for treatment of Parkinson's disease. Solvay says the therapy complements its central nervous system drugs.

Shin-Etsu hikes silicon wafers

Two weeks after deciding to invest $1 billion in the U.S. on a new polyvinyl chloride complex (C&EN, Dec. 13, 2004, page 7), Shin-Etsu Chemical says it will spend another $1 billion on plants in the U.S. and Japan making 12-inch silicon wafers. Shin-Etsu is already the world's largest producer of both PVC and wafers. The firm says it will boost wafer capacity 65%, to 500,000 per month, by expanding a plant in Fukushima, Japan, and by building a unit in Vancouver, Wash. The projects are slated to be completed in the fall of 2006. In 2000, Shin-Etsu was the first wafer manufacturer to commit to the 12-inch disks, which allow semiconductor makers to make more chips at a time.

BP closing Texas -olefins

Facing an oversupplied market, BP is closing its Pasadena, Texas, linear -olefins plant by the end of 2005. The unit, BP's oldest linear -olefins plant, has 500,000 metric tons per year of capacity. BP and competitors have added 450,000 metric tons of new capacity in recent years, BP says, including BP's own 250,000-metric-ton plant in Joffre, Alberta. BP also has a plant in Feluy, Belgium. BP put its linear and poly--olefins unit up for sale last year. It has also been considering whether to contribute the business to the proposed spin-off of its olefins and derivatives business.

JPMorgan to buy PQ Corp.

Private equity investor JPMorgan Partners has signed a definitive agre ement to acquire PQ Corp. for an undisclosed sum. PQ, which claims annual sales in excess of $500 million, put itself up for sale in September 2004. The privately held maker of silicates, zeolites, and other inorganic chemicals was formed in 1831 and is still owned by members of its founding family. The family and a small circle of other insiders will vote on the deal later this month.


BASF appoints top executives

BASF has named Patrick Prevost to be president of its chemicals, plastics, and performance products businesses in North America, and Hans U. Engel to be president of its agricultural products and fine chemicals business in North America. Engel continues to manage BASF's North American service platform. The appointments reflect a new management structure for BASF in North America concurrent with the Dec. 31, 2004, retirement of Frank McKulka, who was president of the firm's former NAFTA II region. Klaus Peter Löbbe continues as chairman and CEO of BASF Corp.

Acrylic from propane mulled

Rohm and Haas and Engelhard have been awarded a $5.2 million grant from the Department of Energy's Industrial Technologies Program to develop a route to acrylic acid from propane. The companies say using propane instead of propylene could save U.S. industry some $1.8 billion by 2020 and some 37 trillion Btus of energy annually. Rohm and Haas will contribute its proficiency in oxidation catalysis, while Engelhard will leverage its expertise in monolithic emission control catalysts. The University of Delaware will provide computational modeling.

Air Liquide deals in China

Air Liquide's engineering group has signed two contracts with Chinese firms. For fertilizer maker Yunnan Tianan Chemical, the French company will build a $41 million air separation unit that will feed an ammonia plant to be built in Anying City, Yunnan province. In a deal with Sinopec Shanghai Petrochemicals, Air Liquide will build a $19 million unit to supply oxygen for an ethylene glycol plant in Jinshanwei, near Shanghai.

Octel to acquire surfactant firm

Octel has agreed to purchase Finetex for $20 million. Finetex has annual sales of about $19 million from the manufacture of surfactants and emollients for personal care, cosmetics, and other industries. The purchase enhances Octel's performance chemicals business as the company phases out its traditional tetraethyllead gasoline additive franchise because of regulatory pressures.

Texas nanotech firms merge

C Sixty has become a subsidiary of Carbon Nanotechnologies Inc. in a merger of the two Houston-based nanotechnology firms. CNI calls itself the world leader in making single-walled carbon nanotubes, and C Sixty bills itself as the leader in the functionalization of C60 molecules (buckyballs). C Sixty is focused on medical applications. "We have always been intrigued with the proposition of combining carbon nanotubes and buckyballs in certain applications," says Ray McLaughlin, executive vice president of CNI.

Tripos to buy software firm

Chemistry research software supplier Tripos has agreed to purchase Optive Research, a developer of computer-assisted molecular discovery software. Tripos, which also provides drug discovery services at its Tripos Discovery Research Centre in Bude, England, will issue 600,000 shares of common stock and pay $4.75 million to Optive's shareholders. Tripos already sells five products developed by Optive, which was spun off from the University of Texas, Austin, in 2002.

Cognis slates Asian projects

Cognis and Thai Olefins are forming a 50-50 joint venture that will build a plant in Rayong, Thailand, making fatty alcohol ethoxylates for cosmetic and detergent applications. The $20 million facility is expected to open in October 2006. Separately, Cognis is building a plant for polyol ester synthetic lubricants in Jinshan, China, near Shanghai. It is set to open early in 2006.

OLED R&D changes hands

Merck KGaA will acquire the Lumitec R&D project in organic light-emitting diodes that was begun by compatriot German firm Schott. All 20 researchers involved have been offered positions with Merck. Schott has developed small- to medium-sized area-lighting-device prototypes based on OLEDs. The project involves indium tin oxide-coated glass substrates, which are made by Merck's liquid-crystal division.

Spectrum gives away a car

Larry Hilton, director of marketing at Spectrum, presents Athoe with the "key" to a new Mini Cooper.
Larry Hilton, director of marketing at Spectrum, presents Athoe with the "key" to a new Mini Cooper.

Diann Athoe, purchasing manager at the Buck Institute for Age Research in Novato, Calif., is the winner of Spectrum Chemicals & Laboratory Products' national car giveaway contest. Spectrum received more than 25,000 entries at the 2003 Pittcon show in Chicago and on its website.

IP2IPO eyes ionic liquids

IP2IPO, a firm that specializes in commercializing technology originated in U.K. universities, has acquired almost 44% of Bioniqs Ltd., a spin-off from the Center of Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) at the University of York. Bioniqs designs and develops ionic liquids, low-melting-point salts with applications in specialty and fine chemicals. The purchase includes a 29% direct investment and a 15% stake through IP2IPO's shareholding in Amaethon Ltd., a joint venture between IP2IPO and the University of York.

UCB commits to more R&D

UCB is underpinning its new profile with a pledge to boost R&D funding this year by 60%. The increase was announced as the company received European Commission clearance to sell its chemical business to Cytec Industries, a deal that will leave it strictly a drugmaker. UCB's R&D budget will be nearly $650 million, compared with around $400 million last year, 19% of which went to the chemical unit. The R&D focus will be a treatment for Crohn's disease and further work in inflammation, allergies, and central nervous system disorders.

M&G moving on Brazilian PET

Mossi & Ghisolfi is advancing plans to build a 450,000-metric-ton-per-year polyethylene terephthalate plant, billed as the world's largest, in Ipojuca, in Brazil's northeastern region. The plant is expected to open late in 2006. In addition, M&G has signed a memorandum of understanding with Brazilian state oil company Petrobras to study back-integration of the plant through investments in PET raw materials.

BASF advances China plans

BASF-YPC, a joint venture between BASF and Sinopec (China Petroleum & Chemical Corp.), has started making methyl acrylate in Nanjing, China. The plant is the first to open at the venture's $2.9 billion complex. In coming months, BASF-YPC will start up the complex's other units, including the centerpiece ethylene cracker. Separately, BASF says it will build a $30 million polyisocyanate plant at China's Shanghai Chemical Industry Park. The 8,000-metric-ton-per-year plant is scheduled to open in 2008. BASF is building a $1 billion polyurethane complex at the same location.


Dow Chemical and Chinese coal producer Shenhua Group will jointly evaluate the feasibility of coal-to-olefins projects in China. Dow expects the study, which will focus on areas around Yulin in Shaanxi province, to be concluded by the end of the year.

Indian Oil Corp. will license Basell's Spheripol technology to build a 600,000-metric-ton-per-year polypropylene plant at its refinery in Panipat, in northwestern India. The plant is scheduled to open in 2007.

Rhodia is selling its $14 million-per-year anesthetics business to Nicholas Piramal India. Rhodia will keep the Avonmouth, England, plant that makes halothane and isoflurane and will supply Nicholas Piramal exclusively for two years.

Dynea will build a plant in Dong Nai, Vietnam, to produce formaldehyde resins for the furniture industry. The company already has a plant in Vietnam that it says is at full capacity.

Johnson Matthey has completed a $5 million expansion of organic titanates at its site in Billingham, England. The catalysts are used in the polymer industry for applications including polyester, inks, and coatings.


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