“Our Ningbo site in China was the focus of much activity”
It was a year of continued solid performance, despite the fact that our businesses experienced mixed fortunes. We were heavily impacted by raw material price increases across all of our activities and margins were affected. Volumes in Ethylene Amines and Chelates increased due to the start-up of our Ningbo plant in China, but there was limited volume growth in our other activities during 2011.
While a few of our businesses, notably Sulfur Derivatives and High Polymers, were solid for the whole year, some were not able to overcome the difficult market conditions or pass on raw material price increases quite so successfully. Ethylene Amines – our star performer of 2010 – found the going particularly tough – mainly because of additional production capacity becoming available in the market – but also due to steep raw material price rises. Our Chelates activities started slowly but recovered as the year progressed. The stand-out, though, was our High Purity Metal Organics business, which performed extremely well and achieved solid growth. It’s a great example of being a big fish in a small pond – having a strong position in clearly defined global markets – and we have high expectations for its continued success.
Our new plant in Ningbo, China, continues to go from strength to strength and was the focus of much activity during 2011. Ethylene amines production came fully on stream at the beginning of the year, while the Chelates facility was also completed, which means these activities are now fully operational and cost-competitive. In addition, a new organic peroxides plant started up in the fourth quarter and we announced two further investments in Ningbo. As well as committing €45 million to consolidate our organic peroxide production at the site, we broke ground on a new plant to add capacity for our Bermocoll cellulose derivatives (paint and building material thickeners). All of these activities will provide momentum for AkzoNobel’s accelerated growth strategy.
We merged our Cellulosic Specialties and Elotex activities into one business. By combining our knowledge and expertise around cellulosics and polymer-based thickeners, we can now offer a unique concept to customers in the construction industry and present a joint offering to their markets. As part of the resulting efficiencies, we were able to effectively launch a new hydrophobically-modified thickener for paint, which was very well received and has quickly established itself as the benchmark quality for the industry. It was also a good year for our OneGrain lower sodium salt replacement (see case study ), which is growing well and has now been commercialized, while our high purity pharmaceutical salt activities grew substantially. A disappointing aspect of 2011 was the spills at our Stenungsund site in Sweden. Some product was accidentally released into the sea on two occasions, which fortunately resulted in very limited environmental impact and no injuries. We worked swiftly and diligently – in close collaboration with the authorities – following both incidents, which served to heighten our focus on safety improvement, both in terms of behavior based safety and process safety.
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