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European firms commit to Asian expansions


t the recent Chinaplas show in Shanghai, Dutch firm DSM focused on its R&D capabilities in Shanghai; Solvay/Rhodia on the compounding facility in Changshu; Evonik on a biopolyamide expansion in Changchun and Borouge on the possibility of compounding expansion at the year-end.

With the move of DSM Engineering Plastics's headquarters to Singapore to be completed this year, the firm is committed to an Asian investment plan of US$1 billion by 2015. One of these is the R&D centre in Shanghai, opened late last year. The centre is designed to undertake material research in polymer processing, flame retardance and mechanical properties to develop new and sustainable materials. DSM has also set up an Automotive Development Centre in Shanghai to focus on automotive applications and simulate various environmental influences such the effects of fluids on materials, metal replacement by plastics and system integration.

DSM is also planning to set up a materials and applications testing centre in Japan by 2013 and another centre in India, where it has a compounding site for its PA, PBT PET products in Pune.

In addition, parent company DSM is making further investments in its Kaohsiung polymerisation facility in Taiwan, which will be completed this year. In China, it is doubling its caprolactam capacity at its Nanjing and Jiangyin facilities by 2014.

As for Solvay Specialty Polymers and Rhodia Engineering Plastics, the recently merged firms are combining their R&D facilities in Shanghai into one at Rhodia's site in the Xinzhuang industrial zone. A new EUR4 million building will be added to the existing Rhodia research centre with two full floors dedicated to polymer formulation and processing, with an injection moulding facility for customer trials. Other laboratories will focus on chemical formulation, mechanical measurements, ageing and flame retardancy and a plastic parts simulation and design capabilities.

Meanwhile, a new EUR21 million compounding plant is to come on-stream at the Changshu site in summer 2012, months ahead of schedule, say the firms. It will serve the fast growing markets in China for electrical & electronics, wire & cable, automotive, consumer and industrial applications. The facility will be adaptable for future expansion for both overall capacity and for other high performance engineering and fluorinated polymers.

Solvay is also building a EUR120 million production plant for fluorinated polymers in Changshu, to be operational early 2014. It will significantly boost Solvay's global production capacity and meet the growing demand for the polymers in Asia for the automotive, photovoltaic (PV), Li-Ion batteries, membranes for water purification and oil & gas applications.

Solvay acquired Rhodia for US$4.8 billion in 2011 to create one of the ten largest chemical companies in the world. Solvay and Rhodia currently have around 3,000 employees in China and operate 15 sites in the country.

To meet the growing demand for biopolyamides, Evonik Industries has started increasing production capacity for its biobased Vestamid Terra polymers, with an additional compounding facility to start up in Shanghai this year. It also said that measures for capacity expansion in the area of polymerisation are also in the works with commissioning scheduled in 2013.

Last year, the company increased production capacity in China for PEEK and PMMA moulding compounds at production facilities in Changchun. It also doubled production capacity for acrylic moulding compounds in Shanghai to 40,000 tonnes and this year, is scheduled to expand PMMA capacity in Taiwan to 85,000 tonnes.

Speaking to PRA, Borouge's CEO Wim Roels said the firm is considering expanding compounding capacity in China. The firm has invested US$60 million in its Shanghai plant to increase capacity to 80,000 tonnes/year from 50,000 that already accounts for about a third of the capacity from Abu Dhabi.

Singapore-based Borouge, a joint venture of Austria's Borealis and Abu Dhabi National Oil in the United Arab Emirates, has invested US$5 billion to increase production of its raw materials in Abu Dhabi to keep up with increasing demand in Asia. Its current capacity is 700,000 tonnes/year of polyolefins and by 2013/2014, it will have a capacity of 2.5 million tonnes/year arising from the Borouge 3 project.

Most of the PP compounding output in China is directed to the automotive market in the country. The firm is also diversifying its activities in the country and has set up four offices in China. "Our strategy is to be close to our customers," said Roels, adding that Borouge is also evaluating the best way to develop its business further to the west in provinces like Sichuan.

Apart from the automotive market, Borouge is also broadening its product offerings to include the wire & cable and film moulding sectors in the country. Borouge's resins are used in the insulation for high power transmission lines and the firm is also undertaking research at its Shanghai facility to develop new uses in cables and pipes.

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