Solvay opens largest sodium bicarbonate plant in Southeast Asia

By Laura Syrett
Published: Saturday, 26 September 2015

Belgian firm to fill Asian quality gap in response to positive demand in food, health and consumer goods markets, which is supporting strong prices.

Belgian chemicals group Solvay SA has opened a new 100,000 tpa sodium bicarbonate plant in Thailand, the largest facility of its kind in Southeast Asia.

The plant, which cost €20m ($22.67m*) and has taken just under two years to construct and commission, is located at Solvay’s existing site in Map Ta Phut, south of Bangkok in Rayong province. Its products will serve growing Asian markets for sodium bicarbonate in healthcare, food and consumer goods, Solvay said.

"We saw Asia as a promising market for high quality sodium bicarbonate applications," Christophe Clemente, president of Solvay’s soda ash and derivatives global business unit, told IM. "We decided to build a plant [in Asia], rather than continuing to export sodium bicarbonate from Europe as we had been doing previously, in order to be closer to our customers."

"There is strong demand in Asia for high quality sodium bicarbonate-based solutions with high traceability from the pharmaceutical and food markets and also from consumer goods," Clemente said.

He explained that although there is already significant sodium bicarbonate capacity in China, there is very little availability of high quality material. "When we decided to make this investment, we were very conscious of our market segments."

Clemente added that Solvay had chosen the Thai location specifically because of the local market in the country but also because of the "cost synergies" offered by building the plant at the company’s existing site.

The new facility will use Solvay’s trademarked BICAR production technology, which minimises waste and maximises yield with optimal energy recovery. "In building the plant, we have brought technical know-how in sodium bicarbonate production into the Asian market," Clemente said.

According to Solvay, global demand for sodium bicarbonate is robust and is particularly strong in Asia. Prices tend to be brand or application specific and markets are determined by segment rather than geography, but the current trend is generally positive, according to Clemente.

In October last year, the company increased prices for all industrial and feed grades of sodium bicarbonate in its SOLVAir (used for treating airborne emissions) and BICAR products lines by $20/s.ton for bulk material and $30/s.ton for packaged material, citing higher manufacturing, transportation and raw materials costs.

*Conversion made September 2015