Crompton Promises Sulfonate Surge


Crompton Corp. announced last week that it will increase production of sodium sulfonates at its Amsterdam, Netherlands, factory to help meet a shortage anticipated due to Shell Oils plans to close a Martinez, Calif., base oil refinery.

The Middlebury, Conn., specialty chemical supplier declined to disclose the size or cost of the expansion but said it should be completed by the end of June. Shell Oil Products US plans to close the Martinez refinery on Sept. 1 and much of the metalworking fluids industry is scrambling to find alternative sources of natural sulfonates or alternative additives.

The Martinez plant supplies approximately 80 percent of U.S. demand for sodium sulfonates, which are used as emulsifiers in soluble oils and as chemical intermediaries. Market sources generally agree that Shells customers will have to import natural sulfonates or turn to synthetics, which often require reformulation. Penreco has a Karns City, Pa., plant which is the only other U.S. source of natural sulfonates. Crompton, with its imports from Europe, has been the other principal supplier in the market.

In announcing the Amsterdam expansion, Crompton noted that the Martinez plant is one of the largest natural sulfonate sources in the world, not just the United States.

This production increase comes at a time when the global marketplace, and in particular North American sodium sulfonate users, face the challenge of identifying new sources of supply for their requirements, said Paul Weinberg, global industrial oil additive market manager for Cromptons Petroleum Additives division.

Crompton described the Amsterdam project as a first step in its attempt to provide a comprehensive solution to the Martinez closure. Company spokesperson Maureen Fama said the next step would be to begin producing a performance equivalent in North America.

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