“The R&D facility in Shanghai is here to answer customer, as well as monitor plant performance and develop new products,” said Groome.
Jiahua has been renting space in a building since May 2013 and will move locally to larger premises by the start of 2017 if all goes well, said Groome. He added: “We will move to a bigger R&D facility with more characterisation facilities.
“At the moment we use local universities for characterisation. I like this process,” he said. “But there is scope for Jiahua to purchase more sophisticated characterisation equipment. Groome explains that the desire to stay local is because of the rich cluster of polyurethane-related firms in Pudong New District: “The area is rich in chemical companies, Honeywell, DuPont, Momentive, Dow, Henkel. I always find it amazing that when you want to do some development work you can phone them up and they will deliver within the afternoon.
“This is where the R&D facility will stay,” he said.
What's going on in the lab?
The Shanghai laboratory has recently worked on DMC catalysts and NOP research and includes polymer characterisation equipment
Groome is happy to talk in broad terms about the types of research that Jiahua has carried out in Shanghai: “We’ve looked at catalyst development technology, we’ve looked at carbon-dioxide polyols and improving existing polyols and reducing unsaturation levels,
“We have looked at non-food oils to produce polyols and recycled oils, and we’ve dabbled in non-isocyanate routes to PU,” he added.
“We have the aim to be a broader chemical supplier. We are looking at manufacturing polyesters and are making aromatic polyesters on a small scale at the moment. Our main production by far, is polyether polyols,” he added.
“Ideas come into the marketing team which looks at their possibilities, to see which suit Jiahua and assess their viability in terms of the market.
Peter Groome, Jiahua
Groome continued: “At the Bingzhou facility, [where Jiahua makes styrene acrylonitrile copolymers] we now have an aromatic polyester facility which we are now developing products on. We are becoming a broader spectrum supplier of materials to the polyurethane industry.”
Natural oils will form a part of research, other areas will look at how to use the EO and PO materials, and use them better in the process. There will be a balance of both
Catalysts can be about production efficiency in terms of reducing batch times and it can be about getting polyols of higher quality that can go into other areas.
Away from research, new product development is shared between the downtown lab and the company’s factory in near to Sinopec’s refinery in Shanghai.
“If we want a variation in polyol we would ask the pilot plant to make the material we need” he said, adding, “it is far safer and better to have your pilot plants at locations where you are handling those types of materials.
Development facilities at the nearby Shanghai plant have the ability to make 1, 5, or 25 kg of specialty products for evaluation or new products production there can be scaled up to 1,10,20,60 or 80 m3 vessels.
In addition to accommodating the pilot plant, Jiahua’s Shanghai facility has a capacity of 250kT/year and this is scheduled to grow. Phase 1 due for completion in the second quarter of 2016 will double the capacity of the plant, said Groome. The site will continue to produce a range of EO and PO-based products for polyurethane, surfactants and construction products.