Difficulty in financing and planned capacity delays are also hitting METEX hard with the company announcing on October 8 plans to reduce its workforce to 75 people, about 1/3 of its employees from a total count of 121 as of December 31, 2011, according to French news agency Boursier.com
According to METEX, the reorganization plan is a result of a difficult economic market conditions that started the beginning of this year, and that the company has to address “a greater need for competitiveness.”
METEX announced on October 15 that it is looking for an “expert”to look into its reorganization plans and that the company will have another council meeting scheduled for November 6.
The planned cost-cutting was actually preceded by the company’s announcement on October 5 of a seven month delay for its 50,000 tonnes/year bio-based 1,3 propanediol (PDO) capacity project in Iskandar, Malaysia. This investment — which was initially announced in November 2010 — is in partnership with Malaysia’s biotech hub owner Bio-XCell Sdn Bhd.
The facility is expected to have an initial output of 8,000 tonnes/year using crude glycerol as feedstock. I don’t recall METEX ever mentioning expected start-up date for the bio-PDO facility (which was probably wise of them to do so…).
METEX first announced a six-month delay for the bio-PDO project on March 9 this year, blaming a snag on an engineering-related documentation as well as soil condition preparation at the site by Bio-XCell.
On the October 5 press release, Bio-XCell reportedly needs more time for its “soil conditioning,” which has affected the construction schedule and led to contract suspension for the two parties. The partners agreed to renegotiate another contract by end of February 2013 after Bio-XCell has to finalize its soil conditioning analysis by December 2012.
Bio-XCell is expected to complete its soil conditioning work by end of April 2013, and of course, where METEX expects to resume construction of the bio-PDO plant thereafter.
As part of the contract suspension, Bio-XCell also returned to METEX its agreed-upon investment guarantee of Malaysian Ringgit (RM) 23.2m (EUR 5.5m, $7.1m). METEX said this action “clearly demonstrates the willingness of the partner to carry out this project.”
In return, METEX said it has committed to providing a new guarantee, at the end of the seven-month period, that does not draw on its available cash. The company said there are still active discussions underway for potential partners for its future bio-PDO products in Asia.
The only company I know currently producing bio-PDO — using cornstarch-based glucose as feedstock — is DuPont Tate & Lyle Bio Products, which was established in 2004. Capacity of the facility located in Loudon, Tennessee, USA, is currently around 60,000 tonne/year. The company actually expanded the capacity by 35% on 2010.
Their bio-PDO is used as an ingredient ranging from cosmetics and personal care formulations to fluids and polymers including DuPont’s Sorona® which is a polytrimethylene terephthalate (PTT) resin made from bio-PDO and petroleum derived terephthalic acid (TPA). The renewable resource content of Sorona® is 37% by weight.
Industry sources reported that PTT has similar properties to that of PET (strength, toughness, stiffness, resistance to heat) processing properties of polybutylene terepthalate or PBT (low mould and melt temperature, processing cycle speed, quick crystallization), and can be used as a substitute for fiber polymers (Polyamide 6; PA 6,6; and polypropylene). It can also be used instead of polycarbonate for molding options.
The last time I heard about capacity update for Sorona® was in 2010. The bio-PDO is shipped from Loudon, Tenn., to the 10,000 tonnes/year Sorona® manufacturing operations in Kingston, N.C. and 30,000 tonnes/year Zhangjiagang Glory Chemical Industry Co., Ltd. (Glory) facility in Jiangsu Province, China.
These facilities polymerize the bio-PDO with TPA to manufacture the Sorona® polymer. Polymer chips are then shipped from these facilities to licensed textile mills for production of Sorona® fibers and to polymer facilities for the manufacture of other applications, including automotive and home furnishings, packaging and engineering thermoplastic resins.
It seems that the uses of Sorona® as well as bio-PDO have dramatically increased in recent years. You can check out some of the recent products made with DuPont Tate & Lyle’s bio-PDO on their website.