Established in 1884 and one of the top five producers of soda ash in the world, General Chemical Industrial Products became a part of the Tata family in March 2008. In an interview with Tata Review, Christopher Douville, vice president and general manager, General Chemical, discusses the New Jersey-based company’s plans and the opportunities at hand.
The acquisition afforded an opportunity to enhance our global footprint, which provided business growth prospects through Tata’s strong customer relationships in Europe and South Africa. In 2010, General Chemical made its first shipment to India. As India’s economy continues to develop over the coming years, it will provide significant soda ash sales opportunities, which can be produced at our US operations.
General Chemical produces natural soda ash. What is the difference between the production processes of natural and synthetic soda ash?
Natural soda ash is produced from trona which is an inorganic ore mined at a few global locations including our facility in Green River, Wyoming, and Tata Chemicals’ Magadi operation in Kenya. Our natural plant in Green River produces the highest quality soda ash at a much lower operating cost than synthetic soda ash, which is produced from limestone, salt, coke and ammonia.
The lower cost enables US natural soda ash producers to supply approximately 25 per cent of the world’s soda ash requirement. In addition, natural soda ash consumes significantly less energy on a per unit basis and has a much lower environmental footprint.
Tell us about the practices or processes followed at General Chemical that contribute to sustainability and the environment.
General Chemical works closely with the state of Wyoming’s Department of Environmental Quality to ensure that we meet all required state and federal regulations. In 2009, Ernst & Young conducted a greenhouse gas lifecycle analysis of our operation’s CO2 emissions, which would be the basis for our objective of a 20 per cent reduction in our greenhouse gas emissions. In 2010, General Chemical’s board of directors adopted Tata’s climate change policy.
The company has been a soda ash producer for more than 100 years. What are the short- and long-term plans for the company?
We will continue to be a high-quality, dependable supplier of soda ash that meets the requirements of our global customer base. In the short term, we are starting our Tata Business Excellence Model journey. In addition, we are implementing Lean Six Sigma, having trained 60 per cent of our salaried employees since our July kick-off date. In 2011, we will be implementing SAP.
In the long term, we will continue to evaluate opportunities in the areas of capacity enhancement and push forward with innovative technology that allows for positive impacts in the areas of energy consumption, electricity supply and air emissions.
What are the new product areas and markets that the company plans to venture into?
The company is currently evaluating an opportunity to utilise its excess capacity to mine and process ground trona for use in the reduction of sulphur emissions in coal-fired utilities. From a market growth standpoint, the company is very excited about the future prospects for soda ash demand growth in the world’s developing regions such as India, Latin America, Asia and Africa. As GDP levels grow in these areas, so will the demands of the key soda ash end-use markets.