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Chemours Restructuring To End U.S. Production Of Sodium Metal

Reorganization: Action continues cost-cutting moves by the DuPont spin-off

by Marc S. Reisch
December 7, 2015 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 93, ISSUE 48

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Credit: Theodore Gray
Chunks of sodium metal, a powerful reducing agent used widely in chemical production.
09348-notw3-sodiumcxd.jpg
Credit: Theodore Gray
Chunks of sodium metal, a powerful reducing agent used widely in chemical production.

Struggling to improve its financial position, Chemours is once again pruning operations. By the end of 2016, the company plans to eliminate 600 jobs worldwide and shut down its sodium and lithium metals facility in Niagara Falls, N.Y., the only such operation in the U.S.

The cutback will allow Chemours, which separated from DuPont in July, to operate more efficiently and concentrate on its core titanium dioxide and fluorochemicals businesses, says CEO Mark Vergnano.

About 400 jobs, or about 5% of the firm’s employee and contractor base, will be cut company-wide. Chem­ours will take a $45 million charge against earnings for this move, which it says will save $50 million annually.

An additional 200 jobs will go when Chemours shuts the Niagara Falls metals operation in December 2016. The company plans a $17 million charge but says its income will improve by $20 million annually.

Separately, Chemours lifted the threat of closure from its Belle, W.Va., methylamines operations. Instead, the firm says it will take actions to improve the unit’s performance and profitability.

Since spinning off from DuPont, Chemours has taken a number of other measures to lower structural costs by a targeted $350 million through 2017. They include shuttering TiO2 operations in Delaware and Tennessee, cutting its quarterly dividend to shareholders, and selling an aniline plant to Dow Chemical.

Chemours’s sodium plant makes the reactive reducing agent by electrolysis of sodium chloride. The metal is used in research, by industry, and by legions of chemistry students who delight in watching it explode in water.

Almost a decade ago, DuPont and France-based Métaux Spéciaux, the only other Western metal producer, accused each other of dumping sodium at cut-rate prices. After U.S. and European investigations, the tiff ended without any lasting government actions.

Dimitri Rimbert, sales director at Métaux Spéciaux, says he is not surprised by Chemours’s decision. As he sees it, the U.S. firm was not “focused” on the sodium market. The pending shutdown of the Niagara Falls plant “is a natural death,” he says, adding that his firm will be able to meet demand from former Chemours customers.

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