GUANGZHOU, CHINA—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, which includes in its product line Kraton IR0401 BU Latex, a synthetic rubber emulsion used as an alternative to natural rubber latex in a variety of applications.
After announcing the location of the site, Freund said, construction of the plant should only take 18 months. Kraton also expects to double its workforce in China over 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 the Texas Pacific Group.
“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 it expects 19 percent growth from 2009 to 2014.
In Asia, the company is focusing on hydrogenated SBCs, which will eventually be produced in the Asia plant.
“HSBC has nice growth opportunities driven by penetrating new products and new market segments,” Freund said. HSBCs can be used as an alternative to PVC in automotive, electronic and medical applications.
HSBCs are on the high end of the SBC market, Freund 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.