As Asia becomes its largest market globally, Solvay is ramping up its investments in the region, including fluoropolymer production.

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Luke C. Du, general manager of Greater China and Southeast Asia and senior VP of Solvay Specialty Polymers, at the Chinaplas 2015 Media Day event in Guangzhou.

At the Chinaplas 2015 Media Day press conference, Luke C. Du, general manager of Greater China and Southeast Asia and senior VP of Solvay Specialty Polymers, noted that Asia, including the Middle East, accounted for 36% of Solvay Specialty Polymer’s sales in 2014, followed by Europe (35%) and North America (28%).

In 2014 in China, Solvay generated Euro 832 million in net sales from 2613 employees spread among 17 industrial sites and four research and innovation centers. The company has had a regional headquarters in Shanghai since 2008, but more recently has added production via a PTFE joint venture based in Changshu with Shanghai 3F. In the second half of this year, the company will start up a Tecnoflon production plant in Changshu, with additional plans to start up a PVDF production plant there in 2016.

Du said Solvay has not released the capacity for the operation but is confident it will support the local market’s growing demand for applications like automotive seals. He also stressed the relative difficulty of starting up production of a specialty chemical product like a fluoropolymer versus a commodity material.

“This is a specialty business,” Du said, “not a commodity plant that you reproduce in snap of fingers. Specialty is specialty for a reason; it requires the infrastructure to support it, the technology, the technical team.”

The partnership with Shanghai 3F is a component of Solvay’s support structure in Changshu. As part of that deal, two companies established a long-term supply agreement of raw materials for fluorinated polymers production, including key raw ingredients like 142b and HFP.

“Looking at the investment, we did not pick the easy one to do,” Du said. “It's a genuine effort by the business to create a global capacity. Solvay will maintain expertise in pockets of the world, but it will not produce everything all over the world. We are not a commodity business.”