After plans for an Asia-based thermoplastic elastomers plant were derailed four years ago by the economic slowdown, Kraton Performance Polymers Inc. is finally drawing close to breaking ground on a production facility in the region.
At a news conference held at Chinaplas 2011 in Guangzhou, company officials promised the site for the new plant will be announced during the second half of the year and they expect to start operations in 2013.
“We are on a very fast track to choose a site,” said Lothar Freund, vice president of technology at Houston-based Kraton. After the company announces the location of the site, plant construction should only take 18 months, according to Freund.
In addition to the new plant, Kraton expects to double its workforce in China during the next 12 months.
“Eight years back we only had a handful of people here,” Freund said.
Kraton, which specializes in styrenic block copolymers, has been through a lot since it first announced plans for the Asia plant four years ago. When it first made the announcement, Kraton was still owned by the private equity firm Texas Pacific Group, now known as TPG Capital.
“We were looking into a spot in Asia right before the economic slowdown,” Freund said.
By mid 2009, following the onset of the recession, Kraton had lost 40 percent of its business volume. In an initial public offering made in late 2009, Texas Pacific Group sold shares for less than it paid to buy the chemical company in 2003. Since then, Kraton has been re-establishing itself, and the firm expects 19 percent growth from 2009-14.
In Asia, the company is focusing on hydrogenated SBCs, which eventually will be produced in the Asia plant.
“HSBC has nice growth opportunities driven by penetrating new products and new market segments,” Freund said.
Hydrogenated SBCs, which are on the high end of the SBC market, can be used as an alternative to PVC in automotive, electronic and medical applications, he said.
“Our strategy is to focus on differentiation,” he said. “We plan to open up new spaces on the high end of the portfolio.
“The design and technology in the plant will be specially designed for our newest products — products that are used in this region,” Freund said.
Chinaplas ran from May 17-20 in Guangzhou.