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(CEO Dialogue) Arkema: Diversified investment and technological innovations drive sustainable growth
Source:Adsale Plastics Network     Editor:VC     Date:17.Jun.2022

Chemical companies are facing the challenges of economic and market fluctuations, uncertainties caused by COVID-19, soaring energy prices and carbon emissions reduction goals in 2022.

 

In such context, Arkema, a world player in specialty chemicals headquartered in Paris, France, leverages investments in capacity expansion, technological innovation and renewable energy to achieve sustainable growth.

 

Rita Chu, Vice Chairman of Adsale Group, talked to Julie Zhang, President of Arkema Greater China, on the opportunities and challenges faced by chemical companies in the process of achieving sustainable growth.

 

  • Rita Chu pursued her studies at Northwestern University in the US, as well as London School of Economics in the UK. A certified accountant, she joined the Adsale Group in 2010 and became the Vice Chairman of the Group in 2019.

 

  • Julie Zhang graduated from China Pharmaceutical University and in 1994 joined Elf Atochem (predecessor of Arkema). In 2002, she joined the High Performance Polymers Business Unit. Over the next 14 years, she held various business and management positions at both the headquarters in France and the Asia Pacific region.


    In 2016, Zhang became the Asia Pacific Group President for the High Performance Polymers Business Unit. She is currently President of Arkema Greater China since 1st July 2021.


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Rita Chu, Vice Chairman of Adsale Group (Left); Julie Zhang, President of Arkema Greater China (Right) 


  • The predecessor of Arkema entered the Chinese market in the early days of China’s reform and opening up. It started from trading, and then expanded the business scope and increased investment year by year. In China, Arkema has 10 industrial sites, 2 R&D centers and more than 3,000 employees now.

 

Well-diversified investment in production expansion


Chu: Arkema has been operating in China for nearly 40 years. The company announced several expansion projects in China last year, including doubling its UV curable resins production capacity at its Nansha plant, increase its PVDF production capacity at its Changshu site by 50%, and constructing a polyamide 11 powders plant on the Changshu platform. Which end markets does Arkema target when making the aforementioned strategic plans?

 

Zhang: Arkema's materials and innovative products are used in a very wide range of end markets. The megatrends of 5G technology and energy transition have led the demand surge in cutting-edge solutions for electronics and renewable energy in Asia in recent years. Doubling the UV curable resins production capacity at Nansha will help us better provide the latest UV curable resins solutions and customized services to Asian customers.

 

On the other hand, driven by the strong consumer electronics and energy storage markets, the global lithium-ion battery market is rapidly growing. After several expansions in the past decade, Arkema's PVDF plant in Changshu is now equipped with state-of-the-art facilities, and is capable of producing PVDF of almost all specifications.

 

The 50% increase in production capacity not only meets the growing needs of our long-term partners in the lithium battery market, but also enables us to fully support the further development of customers in the water treatment, specialty coatings and semiconductor industries.


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Arkema’s R&D Center located in Changshu, China.

 

As consumers become more environmentally conscious, major consumer goods manufacturers are adopting more bio-based and recycled materials. Beyond the special bio-based nature, our flagship Rilsan® polyamide 11 powders are recognized for their superior properties and performance. They are widely used in very demanding applications such as durable home appliances, energy-efficient transport, and advanced additive manufacturing (3D printing) primarily for consumer, industrial, and aerospace markets.


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Rilsan® polyamide 11 powders are used in advanced 3D printing.

 

In parallel with its Symphony Project to increase global production capacity of bio-based polyamide 11 by 50% in Singapore, Arkema has planned to build a new polyamide 11 powders plant at its Changshu site.

 

Symphony Project is Arkema’s major plant currently under construction in Singapore, which will focus on producing Amino 11 and Rilsan® polyamide 11 polymers. The total investment, which also includes downstream polymer production capacities in China, is approximately €450 million. Production is expected to start in this year. This investment will enable us to fully localize this product range in Asia, as well as further support the growing demand for advanced bio-circular materials in the region.

 

Since the beginning of this year, the global economy and market have been in flux. The public health crisis caused by COVID-19 is still full of uncertainty. At the same time, enterprises have to face the challenges of soaring energy prices and the carbon emissions reduction trend.


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Arkema’s solutions are used in consumer electronics applications.

 

In such a complex context, Arkema will pay close attention to changes in end market demands and strengthen the cooperation with customers. We will also adopt advanced processing and production standards, and achieve low-carbon growth through innovation, energy efficiency programs as well as renewable energy procurement.

 

Chu: What expectations does Arkema China have for its business development in 2022?

 

Zhang: As Arkema's second largest market, China plays a pivotal role in both sales volume and growth rate. Adhering to the Group's strategies of innovation and sustainable development, Arkema's business in China has been growing steadily. We are continuing to increase investment in China to further accelerate our development in China.

 

From the perspective of the company's global layout, Arkema pursues a strategic balance of business activities and hopes to benefit from geographical complementarities between Asia, Europe and North America. The development of the Chinese market will help the Group to effectively balance its global business layout.

 

In recent years, Arkema China has further strengthened the Group's localized supply in the strong and growing Asian market through effective strategic mergers and acquisitions and capacity investment.

 

2022 is full of challenges but also opportunities, Arkema will continue to actively implement the Group's strategies, focusing on the three major specialty materials business segments and strengthening innovation and targeted investments to support the rapid growth of the business. We will also further develop innovative materials and sustainable solutions to use resources more efficiently and support green development.

 

For instance, new energy vehicles account for 20% of all vehicles sold in the first four months of 2022 in China, which is far higher than the world average and earlier forecast. One of the keys to making this historic shift is the improvement in performance and capacity of lithium-ion battery.

 

As an innovative pioneer of fluoropolymer materials for high-performance battery electrode binders and separator coatings, Arkema's solutions for the battery market greatly improve battery performance and safety.


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Arkema's solutions are used in the manufacture of new energy vehicles.

 

Our unique global production layout of Kynar® fluoropolymers has enabled Arkema to support the growth of Chinese customers quickly and comprehensively. Besides, continued investment in R&D and production capacity will allow us to continue supporting market growth in the future.

 

Multiple measures to achieve carbon neutral and circular economy


Chu: Driven by the double carbon goals, carbon emissions reduction is becoming a key measure for enterprises to achieve sustainable development. Arkema has also committed to a climate plan with the key objective of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 38% between 2015 and 2030. What carbon emissions reduction innovations of Arkema do you think are worthy of notice?

 

Zhang: Sustainable development is an important part of Arkema's corporate social responsibility. We have formulated carbon emissions reduction requirements for different aspects, such as R&D, production and procurement. Sustainability assessments are required for all large investment projects. Special funds are reserved every year for investing in projects that reduce energy consumption.

 

Driven by China's double carbon goals and the Group's global emissions reduction goals, Arkema's plants in China continue to invest to reduce carbon emissions through various measures, including technological innovation, processing improvement and renewable energy substitution.

 

As of 2021, Arkema's global carbon emissions have been reduced by 34% compared to 2015, including the contribution of plants in China.

 

Arkema has made circular economy a strategic priority for sustainable growth, and is taking action in three areas: 1. Choose to use and promote renewable and recyclable raw materials; 2. Improve production efficiency and simplify production processes; 3. Provide sustainable and innovative solutions.


When comes to renewable materials, Arkema has launched monomers and polymers derived from the oil of castor bean, which are widely used in different applications, such as automotive, 3D printing, sports equipment and consumer electronics. At present, the renewable high-performance bio-based polymers brands in Arkema’s portfolio include Rilsan®, Rilsan® Fine Powders and Pebax® Rnew®.


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Pebax® is used in shoe soles.

 

As one of the founding members of the world's first sustainable castor bean program Pragati, Arkema and other partners train castor farmers in India to increase yield and reduce environmental impact.

 

With the Virtucycle® program, Arkema also develops circuits for the collection and regeneration of high-performance polymers, in order to address resource scarcity and product obsolescence, as well as to minimize CO2 impacts.

 

Five R&D platforms for product innovation


Chu: Which development areas is Arkema currently focusing on? What are the innovative products and solutions?

 

Zhang: Arkema unveiled a new positioning and brand logo with the ambition of providing solutions for global challenges and leveraging its innovation and expertise to help build a better world.

 

Sustainable solutions are always at the core of Arkema’s innovation and product range. We design and develop innovate solutions on five R&D platforms which are new energy, natural resources management, living comfort & home efficiency, lightweight materials and design, and electronic solutions.

 

Take our ABC (Advanced Bio-Circular) high-performance bio-circular materials as example. Arkema is a leader in bio-based and renewable high-performance materials. Our castor beam oil-based product range has formed a unique, complete and circular bio-based supply chain.

 

The 100% bio-based Rilsan® polyamide 11 polymers exhibit superior durability, flexibility, and chemical and mechanical properties, their applications include sports and recreation, consumer products and transportation.

 

Regarding innovative products, our Elium® liquid thermoplastic resins are designed for manufacturing composite parts with mechanical properties similar to thermosetting. Besides, they are recyclable.

 

Elium® resins are suitable for the manufacture of large components by resin infusion, such as wind turbine blades. The composite parts can be recycled using advanced recycling methods developed by Arkema.

 

On 17 March 2022, the ZEBRA (Zero wastE Blade ReseArch) consortium announced the manufacture of the first 100% recyclable prototype wind turbine blade using Elium®.


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Elium® resins are suitable for the manufacture of large components by resin infusion, such as wind turbine blades.

 

Nurturing talented women


Chu: Over the 20 years at Arkema, you held various key business and management positions at both the headquarters in France and the Asia Pacific region. What kind of “magic” does Arkema have that motivates you to work for the company for so many years?

 

Zhang: Arkema encourages its employees to participate in the long-term development of the company. There are many employees who have served in the company for more than 10 or 20 years, and I am also one of them.

 

Arkema's philosophy of sustainability and diverse and inclusive workplace has attracted me. As a member of Arkema, I am proud that our work contributes to a sustainable planet.

 

A diverse workplace is essential for the continuing development of employees. We grew with Arkema and witnessed together its rapid development in China.

 

Chu: You have served as the President of Arkema Greater China since 1st July 2021. As the first female leader of Arkema Greater China, what is your management philosophy? How do you encourage women's empowerment in the development of the company?

 

Zhang: At Arkema, employees are our most valuable asset. We are committed to promoting diversity, gender equality, equal employment opportunity, etc. We advocate that every position is capability-oriented rather than dependent on factors such as nationality, age, background or gender.

 

Arkema has set itself the goal of reaching 30% of women among senior executives by 2030. At Arkema China, there are more women in management positions, and the ratio is higher than that of other key regions of the Group, including the French headquarters and the US.

 

At Arkema, at least one female candidate is required for every new recruiting position. We place a high value on respecting female employees, and ensure that female employees enjoy equal and diverse career development opportunities. At the same time, we have been working hard to nurture more talented women to become managers. After long-term practice, there are more women in important positions, and I am only one of them.


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