Secondly, the removal of Yantai – the city where Wanhua established its first plant – from the name indicates a less China-specific and more global view, the company said.
In terms of expanding its portfolio, Wanhua has added a greater range of chemicals. “Our business portfolio used to be dominated by MDI,” Zhang said, noting that it still accounts for 80% of Wanhua’s total sales revenue. “But in the past years, we have been investing a lot to develop some new isocyanates and we have commissioned some production facilities for aliphatic isocyanates.”
In 2012, Wanhua commissioned a 15 kt/year HDI (hexamethylene diisocyanate) plant in Ningbo, China. It also started a pilot plant for IPDI (isophorone diisocyanate) in Yantai. The company plans to expand production capacity further and in the near future, Wanhua will produce 60 kt of HDI per year and 25 kt/year of IPDI.
This brings Wanhua’s capacities to the following: MDI – 2m tonnes / year, TDI (toluene diisocyanate) – 300 kt / year, HMDI (methylene bis-cyclohexylisocyanate) – 15 kt/year, flexible PU foam – 200 kt/year, rigid PU foam – 300 kt/year, IP – 30 kt/year, IPDA – 25 kt/year and HMDA – 15 kt/year.
Zhang also noted that Wanhua had invested in propylene oxide (PO) with technology licenced from Huntsman, and the plant for this would be commissioned at the end of next year.
“In slabstock, we currently do not have the edge in cost but integrated PO will give us [this],” Zhang explained.
Building on construction growth
The construction industry in China is currently growing above GDP, Momentive’s Lanchak said. There is a growing desire in China for energy conservation in building, to makes new building’s passive – using zero energy. The Chinese government is energy conscious, Lanchak suggested.
In Beijing, for example, there is a programme focusing on energy efficiency in new construction and retrofit. This is just one city with a population of a European country, noted Paul Austin, Momentive’s global R&D director, urethane additives, as he highlighted the wealth of opportunities available for those in the polyurethanes industry. This is not only for new construction but also the aspect of retrofit, Lanchak added, emphasising that this is happening outside Beijing as well.
Huntsman’s Pan also noted that in 2013, the government had made specific developments in terms of introducing policy on energy-saving in housing. “I definitely believe that polyurethanes can play a critical role in supporting this new policy,” he said.
However, in recent years polyurethanes in particular has had a bit of a bad press in China, following a number of fires in residential housing that were blamed on insulation made from the material.
Lanchak noted that this is a global issue – the notion of PU and polyisocyanurate (PIR) having safety issues – but that there have been huge improvements in fire standards for these materials.
Austin noted that indeed there are still some local restrictions on the use of polyurethane for insulation, due to some of the fires that have occurred, but better fire retardancy has been pushed for insulation. “It will slowly be accepted everywhere in China,” Austin said.
Lanchak added that this safety goes beyond insulation and also plays a part in bedding and furniture, for example. This is something that Momentive sees as a health and safety issue, and having it highlighted to ensure safety is definitely a good thing, Lanchak emphasised.
Pan noted that environmental health and safety is becoming important for companies in the urethane insulation industry. The company offers “fire retarding grades [of materials], which not only improves insulation, but take care of safety. We want to support the whole society like that”, he said.
Momentive “operates with green in mind”, Lanchak said, and does this in two ways. First, by aiding production that promotes environmental health and safety, low volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions and sustainable solutions. Secondly, it offers products that can help customers to achieve better cost performance, saving money in energy and materials.
China is developing its own regulations for dealing with chemicals and this is a “good sign”, Huntsman’s Pan said. In China already, there are some strict regulations dealing with product registration, he added. Any product imported into China has to meet this regulation – “it’s similar to a REACH programme”, Pan noted. A similar programme is happening in South Korea, called K-REACH – “that shows you who the role model is”, the executive added.