Chris Douville has been president of Ansac since
"I can’t promise any
self-psychoanalysis," Chris Douville says in response to a
request to interview him about his role as president of
American Natural Soda Ash Corp (Ansac), the
world’s largest exporter of natural soda ash.
Speaking to Douville, it becomes immediately
apparent that he is a company man, much more comfortable
discussing the achievements of Ansac - of which he has been
president since 2013 - than engaging in any kind of hubris.
"The main sources of inspiration over my life and
career have been the desire to build strong people
relationships that can work together to define and implement
solutions for both day-to-day and long-term challenges," he
Douville has every reason to be proud of his time
thus far at the helm of Westport, Connecticut-headquartered
Over the past six years, the organization - which
operates as the sales, marketing and logistics arm of the three
leading producers of natural soda ash in the United States -
has performed strongly.
"Our teams have achieved a number of records," he
says. "These include highest annual volumes produced, reduced
numbers of recordable injuries, highest sales volumes, and
highest profit returns."
Ansac's triumvirate of members is comprised of
Genesis Alkali, Tata Chemicals and Ciner Resources.
Genesis is a home-grown US company headquartered
in Green River, Wyoming, while Tata Chemicals is a US
subsidiary of Indian conglomerate Tata Group, and Ciner
Resources is the North American arm of Turkey’s
By the close of this year, Ansac is forecast to
have exported well over 4.5 million tonnes of sodium carbonate,
most of which will wind up in end products as diverse as glass,
detergent, chemicals and lithium batteries across the
Despite his insistence on mostly talking shop,
Douville does offer a glimpse of his personal achievements and
An early affinity with science and math led him to
complete a degree in chemical engineering at the University of
Notre Dame, Indiana, in the mid-1980s, after which he gained an
MBA from Southern New Hampshire University.
When not presiding over a North American chemicals
empire, Douville winds down by spending time with friends and
family, including a new grandson.
The consummate corporate professional, golf is
high on his list of hobbies, as is road cycling - an
increasingly important networking activity for high-flying
But keeping fit is important to him for its own
sake, as is watching Notre Dame Fighting Irish - the famous
college football team of his alma mater.
Douville’s belief in self betterment,
both mental and physical, also shines through in his enthusiasm
for corporate social responsibility.
Since he took the helm at Ansac, the corporation
has worked closely with the Connecticut Food Bank, a local
non-profit organisation and the largest source of emergency
sustenance in the state.
"I am proud of the work we have done in the
community to help reduce food insecurity for kids and their
families," he says.
"Since 2013, we have also been partners with a
local [non-governmental organization] in Indonesia. In that
time, we have helped to build six new schools, providing safe,
positive learning environments across the country," he
Unlike many chemical engineering graduates who are
lured away from chemistry by the promise of big bucks in
finance, Douville stuck to his academic interests and
to pursue a career within the chemicals industry.
Prior to joining Ansac, he was Tata
Chemicals’ vice president of sales and marketing
from 2000 to 2008, before becoming general manager of the
group’s North American natural soda ash
From a personnel perspective, Ansac is compact in
size, employing just 30 people across its global business,
which includes regional sales offices in Miami, Hong Kong and
"This means communication, passion and innovative
ideas to resolve challenges are critical to our success," says
"Ansac’s value proposition is built
on providing our customers with the highest quality soda ash
and always reliable on-time deliveries to all of the
geographies we serve."
"Our ability to achieve those are due to the four
cost-efficient, large-scale, high-quality natural soda ash
production operations of our member companies, as well as the
shipping and local inventory capabilities of our supply channel
partners and distributors," he explains.
Douville’s drive and love for his
role comes from what he calls "strategic goal achievement".
"My priorities as a senior manager are to ensure
that we have the worldwide data necessary to define the short
and long-term strategic goals of our business, that we have
buy-in from our board and our various teams, and the internal
and external resources necessary to achieve those goals," he
Changes at Ansac
The past 12 months have been eventful for Ansac,
which turned 35 this year.
In November 2018, Ciner Resources announced its
withdrawal from the corporation, effective as of December 31,
While this decision sent ripples through the
global soda ash market and raised questions about the
sustainability of Ansac as a marketing organ for North American
soda ash, Douville dismisses the idea that Genesis or Tata
might follow Ciner any time soon.
"Neither have indicated an intention to provide
termination notice prior to year-end, and each has been
supportive of Ansac’s strategic business
initiatives that will extend beyond calendar year 2021," he
If notice were to be provided by another member by
the end of 2019, the earliest termination date possible for
that member would be the close of business on December 31,
2021, which means Ansac’s future is secure for at
least the next two years.
Another area requiring Ansac’s
attention is the imminent introduction of the International
Maritime Organization’s (IMO) sulfur cap, which
requires all shippers to limit their sulfur fuel content down
to 0.5% from the current 3.5%.
Ansac has said it welcomes the mandate, which
comes into effect on January 1, 2020.
According to Douville, the corporation has long
been sensitive to its environmental obligations, as evidenced
by a third-party LifeCycle Analysis report from 2015, which
indicated that the carbon intensity footprint of soda ash
produced in Green River, Wyoming - the location of the four
plants belonging to its member companies - is 37% lower than
that of the synthetic processes more common in China and parts
"In 2012, Ansac also committed to only bringing
new fuel-efficient eco ships into its leased time charter
fleet," says Douville. "These eco ships provide a 15-25% carbon
footprint reduction depending on type of engine and engine
That said, the corporation believes the new IMO
regulations will have a significant effect on fuel
hedging options for next year. For this reason, in
mid-September, Ansac announced it would be implementing a fuel
surcharge, with immediate effect, to ensure compliance with the
"The reason that we announced the fuel surcharge
is two-fold," explains Douville. "While there are only a couple
of months until the implementation of the IMO mandate the cost
to purchase the 0.5% low-sulfur fuel is still highly
speculative, with a significant premium included in forward
pricing, limiting other realistic hedging opportunities
"Second, with the number of different methods that
fuel refineries and blenders will use to achieve the mandate,
shipowners are still evaluating which fuels they will purchase.
Therefore, there is a large uncertainty around the supply and
demand, as well as cost for the actual fuels."
As shipowners largely pass along additional fuel
costs to those using the freight services, Ansac has initiated
the surcharge "to pass through this additional mandated
"We believe that neither Ansac nor our customers
should fully absorb this globally mandated cost increase,"
insists Douville. "The cost increase should ultimately pass
through the entire supply channel to the end-use consumer."
Outlook for soda ash
As for the sodium carbonate market, more than 50%
of demand is now reported to come from the glass
Appetite for flat glass, in particular, remains
strong, says Douville, driven by increasing urbanization in
Ansac’s key markets of China, Southeast Asia and
"More recently, the growing interest in renewable
energy has also increased demand for solar glass," says
"Demand for lithium carbonate and lithium
hydroxide is providing upside growth potential in electric
automobiles and electricity storage. The move away from
plastics and plastic containers to reduce global waste may also
provide increased opportunities for fully recyclable container
glass," he adds.
According to Ansac’s website, the
Green River Basin has enough trona ore - the natural mineral
that is refined into soda ash - to supply the
world’s soda ash needs for hundreds of
Despite this, supply is currently tight.
Genesis Alkali and Tata Chemicals were forced to
increase prices in August, in the range of $10-15 per tonne,
due to increased energy costs incurred in the production
"Historically, the global supply-demand balance
for soda ash and the largely corresponding capacity utilization
rate for soda ash producers are what drive contract and spot
prices," explains Douville.
"With soda ash demand projected to increase by a
minimum of 1.5-2.5% per year over the coming years, this will
equate to an additional 900,000-1.5 million tonnes of demand
growth each year," he says, reciting what sound like
"With very few producers indicating capacity
increases over the next couple of years, global supply-demand
balance should tighten and capacity utilization rates will