Year in Review 2013: Soda ash

By Emma Hughes
Published: Friday, 20 December 2013

The soda ash industry continues to grow, despite a waning glass market

January

Solvay completed the acquisition of a controlling interest in Mumbai-based surfactants producer Sunshield Chemicals Ltd. The 62.36%, Û11.7m (around $15m) acquisition will enable the expansion of Solvay’s Novecare business in India.

Turkey-based Ciner Group signed a $1.35bn deal with China Tianchen Engineering Corp. (TCC) to build the world’s biggest soda ash facility in the country’s capital city, Ankara. The production facility, which will produce 2.5m tpa dense soda ash and 200,000 tpa sodium bicarbonate, is expected to be up and running by early 2017.

Penrice Soda Holdings Ltd said it will close its Adelaide, Australia-based soda ash manufacturing facility after experiencing “increasingly difficult domestic trading conditions”. Several factors, including the strength of the Australian dollar; lower international shipping costs; increased energy and labour costs; and increasing taxes, have made the import of soda ash more than 40% cheaper than producing domestically.

Natural Resource Partners L.P. (NRP) acquired a 48.51% general partner interest in natural trona soda ash producer OCI Wyoming L.P. from subsidiaries of Anadarko Petroleum Corp. for $292.5m.

Six unnamed companies located outside of Tanzania placed bids to set up a $500m soda ash plant at Lake Natron, according to the country’s National Development Corp. (NDC). The deposit holds the potential to produce 1m tpa soda ash as well as to bring benefits to the local area.

February

Speaking at a press conference in Minsk at the beginning of February, Belarus Architecture and Construction Minister, Anatoly Nichkasov said soda ash could soon be produced in Belarus under a joint venture agreement with Russia. The soda ash would be sold both in Belarus and in the neighbouring countries.

The directorate general of Customs Valuation in Karachi, Pakistan, revised the customs value on imports of soda ash, which will now be assessed for import duties with the customs value of $265/tonne for synthetic dense soda ash; $255/tonne for synthetic light soda ash and $250/tonne for natural dense light soda ash.

March

US soda ash producers could gain equal footing over Chinese competitors following the introduction of a bipartisan bill that would provide the US soda ash industry temporary royalty relief. Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis introduced the American Soda Ash Competitiveness Act bill on 5 March.

May

By May, it was revealed that royalty rates for soda ash produced on Federal land in the US could be restored to 2% after the House Natural Resources Committee voted in favour of the American Soda Ash Competitiveness Act.

July

Novacarb announced plans to increase capacity at its European operations as well to develop a new facility in South-East Asia. It said it will expand capacity at its Nancy production plant in France by an additional 30,000 tpa, using an investment of Û25m ($32m).

Kenya has reinforced security along the Somali border in a measure against the illegal export of soda ash, which is reportedly being used by Al Shabab terrorists to manufacture bomb explosives. The intensified security along the check-points followed the impounding of a truck on the Wajir border, found to be carrying soda ash as well as other explosives ingredients.

RUSAL Achinsk entered into an addendum to its soda ash supply contract with the privately-listed company Eniseyskiy CBK LLC. The updated supply agreement, for around 4,000 tonnes soda ash, at approximately $1.13m, is in addition to the previously-agreed contract for 9,360 tonnes soda ash, at around $2.63m. The new contract will run until 31 December 2013.

September

FMC Wyoming Corp. said it will increase the price of two soda ash grades sold to South African customers by $30/tonne. The increase will apply to FMC Wyoming’s Grade 260 “dense” soda ash and Grade 100 “light” soda ash sold to South African customers. FMC Wyoming said the move was necessary in order for it to recover increasing costs and continue to invest in its soda ash operations.

OCI Resources, which operates the Wyoming Green River facility in the US, offered a Master Limited Partnership (MLP) IPO on the New York Stock Exchange.

October

Solvay revealed plans to build a new sodium bicarbonate plant in Thailand, which is set to become the largest of its kind in South-East Asia. Addressing growing demand for sodium bicarbonate for the healthcare and food markets, Solvay will construct the 100,000 tpa plant on its existing site in Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate, Rayong province.

Royalty rates for soda ash produced on Federal land in the US were reduced to 4% after months of action concluded in the acceptance of temporary legislation.

Tata Chemicals Europe (TCE) revealed restructuring proposals for its Cheshire, UK-based operations that could mean closing its soda ash and calcium chloride factory in Winnington. TCE announced the proposal in response to “high and rising” energy prices. If the action goes ahead it could result in more than 220 redundancies across its Winnington and Lostock operations and from support services.

Clariant International Ltd signed an agreement for the sale of its detergents and intermediates business to International Chemical Investors Group (ICIG), an industry of mid-sized chemicals and pharmaceuticals.

November

Regional demand for soda ash in the GCC is growing by 15-20% a year, representing a growth opportunity for soda ash development in Saudi Arabia, the commercial and corporate affairs director for IDEA Soda Ash & Calcium Chloride told delegates at the Middle East Industrial Minerals conference in Oman.

Solvay announced plans to build a new distiller at its soda ash plant in Devnya, Bulgaria, within one or two years. Spyros Nomikos, general manager and CEO of Bulgaria-based Solvay Chemicals, said that it will invest BGN 55m ($37.9m) for the construction of the new distiller. The distiller will significantly reduce production costs, by optimising steam consumption and reducing CO2 emission.