A German chemicals group planning a major investment in Central Europe is certainly something out of the ordinary. But a company that spends several hundred million Euros in ramping up capacities in a seemingly saturated market must have something in mind. Just like the polymer specialists Lanxess, who, since 2004, have invested over 300 million euros in its Belgian flagship site in Antwerp. What is the story behind these? On the 50-year anniversary of caprolactam production on the banks of the river Scheldt, the Cologne-based company lets us have a look behind the scenes…
Between container ships, tugboats, cargo barges and seagulls beats the heart of the chemical industry: Antwerp, Europe's second-largest freight port is also the home to largest chemical park on the continent. The port company believes that 70% of all leading chemical companies operate plants along the river banks in the harbour area.
Perfectly connected to seaports, motorways, a railway line to the Ruhr area and the inland waterway transport, the cluster is also one of the leading places for the reloading and shipping of chemicals: About 10% of all chemical products shipped worldwide are loaded in Antwerp. A pipeline network more than 1000 km long connects the individual plants across trades and corporate boundaries to form a mega-network.
Right in the centre of this mega-clusters stands the specialist chemicals group Lanxess. For the Cologne-based company, the flagship Belgian chemical park is the second largest production site, with a total of 1,200 employees on-site.
And this has been the case for over 50 years - on 24 April 1967, still under the auspices of Bayer, caprolactam production commenced in one of the first chemical plants in the harbour area. Just in time for the 50th anniversary, the company announced a further 25 million Euros investment in the production of polyamides and plastic precursors.
But this sum is only the tip of the iceberg: The company has already invested over 300 million Euros in Antwerp in the past decade. A central element of these expansion plans was the construction of a new polymerisation plant with an annual production capacity of 90.000 tonnes, directly connected to the caprolactam production. Since the start-up of the plant in summer 2014, polyamide from Antwerp has been delivered to compounding plants all over the world, where it is refined into high-performance plastics.
Expressed in figures. these investments are enormous: When Lanxess was split off from the Bayer group in 2004, the complex had a capacity of 160 000 tonnes caprolactam per year, which has increased to 220 000 tons as of today.
Since the start-up of the plant 50 years ago, over 6 252 000 tonnes of caprolactam have been produced. “Our integrated production complex is the backbone of our global business for high-performance plastics. Therefore, we are continuously strengthening the competitiveness of the site”, explains Lanxess CEO Matthias Zachert.
Where are the challenges? And what is the strategy of the Cologne based specialty chemicals producer? Discover more on page 2!
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