Solvay SA's 21 million euro ($27 million) compounding facility in Changshu, China, will come on stream this summer, months ahead of schedule.
Solvay Specialty Polymers and Rhodia Engineering Plastics, both businesses of Brussels-based Solvay, made the announcement at an April 17 press conference preceding the Chinaplas in Shanghai.
Solvay bought Rhodia SA for $4.8 billion in 2011, creating one of the 10 largest chemical companies in the world. Solvay and Rhodia employ around 3,000 in China and operate 15 sites there.
Some 26 percent of the firms' overall business is in Asia, and they are working hard to expand their footprint. Following the acquisition, they embarked on a series of investments in China, including the compounding facility.
In addition, Solvay is building a 121 million euro ($157 million) production plant for fluorinated polymers at its industrial site, also in Changshu, that is expected to start up in early 2014.
“We are not coming to China for the cheap labor,” said Maurizio Gastaldi, head of Asia growth and development at Solvay Specialty Polymers. “We are coming to China to bring the best products for the market in China.”
The China facilities will serve local, as well as global markets.
The companies also are combining their separate Shanghai research and development campuses into a single center at Rhodia's campus. A 4 million euro ($5.2 million) building will be added to Rhodia's R&D site, with two floors dedicated to polymer formulation and processing, including an injection molding facility for customer trials.
“Our R&D started in Europe, and then moved to America and now it's moving to Asia,” Gastaldi said.
Frank Laganier, Asia-Pacific zone director for Rhodia Engineering Plastics, said Rhodia has been in China for a long time, mostly in the Shanghai and Jiangsu areas.
The Changshu compounding plant will serve China's electronics, automotive, consumer and industrial applications market. It will be fully adaptable for future expansion for overall capacity as well as for the addition of other high-performance engineering and fluorinated polymers.
Solvay and Rhodia are placing emphasis on China's expanding photovoltaics market, as well as its auto market, which has been emphasizing the development of electrical vehicles. Solvay and Rhodia are promoting products that can reduce vehicle weight and improve battery life cycles.
As part of its latest five-year plan, China has increased its photovoltaic installation targets. The R&D center has recently introduced a lab dedicated to developing fire-resistant applications that can serve that market.
The firms see opportunities for solar-energy growth not only in China, but in the Asian market at large, and in countries that have renewable-energy policies.