Albemarle Readies Itself For Recovery

CP 50 company enters into a joint venture, wins a Green Chemistry Award and reduces debt.

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Albemarle Corp., a Baton Rouge, La.-based developer, manufacturer and marketer of specialty chemicals and services has been very productive in the second half of 2009. The company announced a strategic joint venture in the Middle East, won an award from the American Chemical Society and concentrated on debt reduction. It appears the company is in a good position to start 2010 on a positive note.

"Volumes continue to improve for many of our products, and we are encouraged by the sequential increase in sales and profitability over the prior two quarters. Our order patterns thus far in the fourth quarter alleviate some of the concern we previously expressed about the sustainability of the recovery going forward; however, we remain cautious in this difficult environment," says Mark C. Rohr, chairman and CEO regarding the company's third-quarter 2009 financial statement. "We're very proud of our strong cash generation and working capital management. We have repaid $113 million of debt in the first nine months and have $260 million of cash and equivalents at Sept. 30, 2009. We continue to focus on cost-saving initiatives and aggressive innovation efforts to drive growth. We've demonstrated an ability to deliver high quality results in both good as well as tough times and we continue to drive value for our shareholders."

Part of the growth driver may hinge on Albemarle's recently announced 50/50 joint venture with Ibn Hayyan Plastic Products Company (TAYF), an affiliate of Saudi Basic Industries Corp. (SABIC), called Saudi Organometallic Chemicals Company (SOCC). Under the terms of the joint venture agreement, the two parent companies will build a world-scale organometallics production facility strategically located in the Arabian Gulf Industrial City of Al-Jubail.

The construction of the plant is expected to begin in the fourth quarter of 2009 with start-up anticipated by early 2012.

The new facility will have the capacity to produce 6,000 metric tons of tri-ethyl aluminum equivalents annually. Tri-ethyl aluminum is used primarily as a co-catalyst in Ziegler-Natta type systems for olefin polymerizations.

"We are excited to bring this enabling technology to the Middle East and we are equally pleased to be doing so in partnership with SABIC, one of the world's leading chemical companies," says Rohr. "This new world-scale production unit will help us safely and efficiently serve our customers while also providing a foundation for Albemarle to capitalize on other opportunities emerging in the region."

In other news, Albemarle, along with its consortium partners Lummus Technology and Neste Oil, will receive the 2010 Award for Affordable Green Chemistry from the American Chemical Society (ACS), for AlkyClean, a cutting edge solid acid alkylation technology invented and commercialized by the three companies. The award will be presented at the 239th ACS National Meeting in March 2010.

The AlkyClean solid acid alkylation process is said to significantly improve the safety of existing refinery processes and reduce potential hazards associated with transportation and handling of liquid acids used to produce alkylate, the high-octane blending component that is used to improve the antiknock value of fuels. No acid-soluble oils or spent acids are produced, and there is no need for product post-treatment of any kind to remove traces of acid. Besides these environmental advantages, the AlkyClean process has proven to be robust, requiring minimal maintenance.

"Refining companies have traditionally had two options for acid catalysts when it comes to alkylation, sulfuric acid or hydrofluoric acid. Both are liquids and neither one is ideal from a handling perspective," said John Kasbaum, division vice president of Albemarle's Fluid Catalytic Cracking group. "The AlkyClean process gives them an attractive, commercially viable option that reduces risk and improves operational economics."

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