MAASTRICHT, Netherlands—When it come to the access of methylene diphenyl diisocyanate, India's polyurethanes faces a quandary. The country sits between two large areas of diisocyanate production—the Middle East and the Far East—and it can be hard for local converters to source raw materials because of their distance from these production centers.
At some point, MDI suppliers will need to bring resources closer to the Indian market. And for Hunstman, that move could come sooner rather than later.
"India needs an MDI plant in the next five years. It is something we would seriously consider," Tony Hankins, president of polyurethanes for Huntsman, said in an interview at at UTECH Europe 2018.
As polyurethane consumption throughout India continues its rapid growth, the opportunity to locate an MDI plant within the country grows as well. Considering the infrastructure already in place, as well as the relationships that Huntsman has established, the possibility of implementing a plant there becomes more feasible.
"We think it is doable," Hankins said. "I think the infrastructure is capable. I think there are some world-class sites. There is a site in Jamnagar, for example, that's one of the world's biggest refineries. It shows the scale and ability that some of the Indian national champions have."
Finding a capital-rich partner with in-roads throughout the region, however, would be key to moving a project like this forward, Hankins said.
"Our strategy here is to be capital light and intellectual property heavy," Hankins said. "The capital we have we are going to put downstream. We are quite clear about that with shareholders."
He pointed to the firm's growth in China as proof that development of long-term relationships like these could benefit the industry as a whole.
"We like relationships with national champions," Hankins added. "We have a very, very good history of that in China with our MDI investment in Shanghai (and) in Nanjing with our very good PO: MTBE joint venture with Sinopec. That's the way to go."
The biggest challenge that Huntsman may face in bringing an MDI plant to India, is ensuring residents living near any proposed facility about the safety of the chemical production process.
"It will take a huge amount of effort and expertise to overcome the legacy of Union Carbide," Hankins said, referring to the 1984 disaster during which large amounts of methyl isocyanate escaped from an insecticide plant killing thousands and causing a panic that forced many more to flee their homes for safety.
Hankins emphasized that the situation would be far different for Huntsman, which prides itself on safety and expertise.
"We're bringing process, technology expertise (and) the ability to handle phosgene in a very safe way," he said.