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Asia Beckons, Infineum Answers


Infineum has put its money where its mouth is for the Asia-Pacific market, investing Singapore $188 million (US $150 million) to build a new salicylate detergent manufacturing facility on Jurong Island, Singapore. This represents the largest single investment in the additives makers history and its first such plant outside of Europe.

The main uses for salicylates are in passenger car and heavy-duty automotive applications, and in marine, railroad and natural gas engine oils.

Groundbreaking for the Singapore plant was April 23, and construction is expected to be completed during the third quarter of 2013. Start-up is planned for fourth-quarter 2013.

The Milton Hill, U.K.-based additive company already operates a manufacturing facility on Jurong Island with both component manufacturing and blending capabilities. Set up in 1999, Infineum is a joint venture between ExxonMobil and Shell.

According to Xavier LeLeux, venture manager for Infineum Singapore, the site on Jurong Island is about 700 acres in size. The current manufacturing plant was built in 1982, indicative of Infineums longstanding commitment to the Asia Pacific region, LeLeux told LubesnGreases. There are around 130 colleagues working at the current plant, and the new salicylate plant will increase this number to about 180.

The new Singapore facility was designed incorporating the latest technologies and practices for manufacturing chemicals with minimal human intervention, the company pointed out in its announcement. It will employ an integrated manufacturing process in which computer-automated operations and quality in-line systems govern the various equipment functions.

Jurongs Appeal

At the April groundbreaking ceremony, Sara Lefcourt, group vice president of supply, noted the company constantly reviews its supply capability to ensure it can consistently fulfill its customers current and future needs. Strengthening our supply reliability, one of our top priorities, has been a key driver for this investment, Lefcourt said.

Singapore was selected for its strategic location in Asia-Pacific, its robust infrastructure, the availability of skilled workforce and the outstanding safety performance of the existing operations. The excellent collaboration with the Singapore authorities will be instrumental in the success of this project.

Tan Choon Shian, acting managing director of Singapores Economic Development Board, pointed out during the ceremony that, Specialties companies are seeking a base in Asia from which to capitalize on the growth opportunities presented by rapidly emerging markets. According to Shian, Singapore has set aside S$16 billion (US $12.8 billion) to be spent between 2010 and 2015 to encourage industry-relevant research and to support private-sector research and development.

He said access to global talent means Singapore is well positioned to support companies looking to develop new technologies, products and solutions. Locating R&D assets near Infineums manufacturing base would enable the company to rapidly commercialize new products and technologies for the Asian automotive sector, he suggested.

Shian pointed out that Infineum shareholders Shell and ExxonMobil each also operate their largest integrated manufacturing sites globally in Singapore, with both base oil refining and finished lube blending facilities there.

Salicylates Up Close

LeLeux explained that the new facilities in Singapore have been designed to make the same molecules as the company produces in Berre, France, so that the new plant is an integrated part of the Infineum global supply network.

Our products serve various and diverse applications, he said. Products from the Singapore facility service all product areas and market tiers, with a particular focus on premium-tier applications per Infineums global strategy. LeLeux noted that salicylate is an important component in lubricant formulations, and the additional salicylate supply from Singapore will help ensure product supply reliability.

Salicylates deliver improved oxidation control, strong acid-neutralization capability and superior piston cleanliness versus other detergent chemistries, which combine to create higher-performing automotive lubricants with long-drain capability, even at reduced SAPS, Chris Locke, a global business manager for Infineum, told LubesnGreases. Another advantage of salicylates over other chemistries is that they have a much lower friction coefficient, which means they can deliver fuel economy benefits to the lubricant.

He stated that in marine trunk piston engine oil (TPEO) formulations, Infineum salicylates provide outstanding cleanliness, antioxidancy and base number retention when compared with sulfonate and phenate-based products. Other benefits of the multifunctional salicylate chemistry include friction reduction and corrosive wear control.

Rethinking Detergency

Salicylate is a unique molecule and provides unique advantages over other detergents, Locke said, so it does not typically serve as a drop-in replacement for other detergents such as sulfonates. Infineum has extensive knowledge on how to formulate very effectively with salicylate chemistry, he noted. Simple drop-in replacement for other chemistries does not usually meet expectations.

Base oil solubility is a critical area. According to Locke, Infineum has developed a deep knowledge on the root causes of component behavior differences in both automotive and marine applications.

In automotive applications, salicylates have long been the market-leading technology in premium-tier synthetic and semi-synthetic applications, with no solubility issues, he said. In marine, Infineum has developed a new salicylate technology for use in a range of lower solvency [API] Group II base stocks.

Salicylates, Locke explained, have excellent asphaltene handling performance that overcomes the unfavorable effects sometimes encountered in low aromatic base stocks, without compromising the advantages that these base oils have in areas such as antioxidancy. Bench and engine tests have demonstrated at least equivalent cleanliness performance to current Group I formulations, he pointed out, which means Infineum is ready for the use of Group II base stocks in marine TPEO formulations.

He emphasized that like any other component, salicylates require strong formulation know-how to be used effectively. Infineum has more than 30 years experience in formulating with salicylate, allowing us to take full advantage of the benefits of these components in combination with other additives.

Target Markets

Infineum estimates the global marine engine oil market is about 2.2 million metric tons per year. Although currently under recessionary pressures, this market is expected to start growing at 3 percent to 5 percent [a year] within the next one to three years, depending on the pace of recovery of the worldwide economy, Siang Yong Lim, also a global business manager for Infineum, told LubesnGreases.

In terms of improving the bottom line for ship operators, Lim said, Infineums trunk piston additives are usually used at lower treat-rates due to the effectiveness of the chemistry. The salicylate benefits allow improved engine durability and increased time in between over-hauls, allowing the ship operator to realize substantial savings, Lim stated.

Infineum estimates total lubricants demand in Asia-Pacific to be about 14 million tons, and expects that to grow approximately 3.3 percent per year for the next five years. Growth in Asia-Pacific is driven by China, but amongst other markets that are expected to grow significantly over the period are India and the Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, Lim said.

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