“We utilized the full capacity of all our plants for virtually the entire year, with both our Salt and MCA businesses sold out.”
Our businesses recovered more sharply than anticipated following last year’s economic downturn, which resulted in 2010 exceeding expectations. Volumes bounced back very close to pre-crisis levels and this helped to lift sales to record levels.
It was a strong recovery, based on high volumes, improved margins, more focus on sustainability and acquiring additional business. We utilized the full capacity of all our plants for virtually the entire year, with both our Salt and MCA businesses sold out. Chlor-alkali was sold out from the summer onwards and our Energy business had a successful year. Also crucial was the fact that although we remained focused on customers, costs and cash, we stuck to our growth strategy and continued to maintain and invest in our plants during the crisis. Our competitors often didn’t, which meant we were able to take advantage of the overall economic tailwind and benefit from the demand which accompanied the recovery. The Salt business really set the tone by getting off to a head start due to the severe wintry conditions, especially in Europe. We were also able to attract income from the secondary use of salt caverns for the storage of oil and gases.
We stepped up our manufacturing footprint for MCA in China by bringing total capacity at our Taixing plant up to 60kt. We are also working on substantially increasing this capacity further in order to satisfy growing demand. In the Netherlands, we boosted salt capacity at our Delfzijl facility by 350kt, increasing it to 2,700kt. It is now the largest vacuum salt plant in the world. We also added capacity at our Delamine higher ethylene amines joint venture in Delfzijl to meet customer demand. All of this extra capacity was fully utilized as of day one. Another highlight was the formal launch of our mTA (meso-Tartrate) next generation anti-caking agent for salt. It’s our intention to develop this product into a new value chain for salt and we see substantial growth opportunities in Europe, the Americas and Asia. Its potential was underlined when it was recognized as one of the top three innovations by the Association of the Dutch Chemical Industry (VNCI). It also received a commendation from the European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC).
We launched a comprehensive, business-wide Lean SixSigma program in order to make a step-change in operational excellence. This will not only help us to run improvement projects in a much more focused manner across the value chain, but will also add a new dimension to our efforts in developing our people up to their potential. As part of a program to build up strategic national energy reserves, we signed a binding agreement to store gas oil at our salt caverns in Hengelo. This will be in addition to the natural gas and nitrogen which is stored in our Delfzijl caverns. We continued our efforts to develop new bio-based products based on renewables and were delighted to win the company’s internal BU Sustainability Award for our carbon footprint work.
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