Japanese manufacturer to locate in Belle

By The West Virginia Record | Dec 20, 2007

TOKYO -- Kureha Corp. announced Dec. 18 it will invest more than $100 million to build a plant in Belle that will produce and sell the groundbreaking, high-performance polymer, polyglycolic acid (PGA).

Construction of the production facility, which will be at the DuPont site, is expected to start in early 2008 with polymer production to begin in early 2010. The first phase of construction will create approximately 50 new jobs and generate more than $100 million in economic impact.

Kureha Corp. is a leading global supplier of specialty chemicals and plastics used in consumer packaging, household products, pharmaceuticals, agriculture and other industrial applications. PGA is a high-strength polyester resin that offers a high gas barrier to carbon dioxide and oxygen with controllable hydrolysis. This unique combination of properties makes PGA ideally suited for high-performance packaging and industrial applications.

"The establishment of this PGA business is another milestone in Kureha's vision of becoming a specialty products company, radically redefining the way we approach our markets and customers," said Dr. Takao Iwasaki, President and CEO of Kureha Corp. "With the development of this breakthrough technology and the strong intellectual property surrounding our work, PGA will become a centerpiece in the company's strategy of focusing on value-added, highly differentiated products, setting us on a path of strong growth and profitability."

Gov. Joe Manchin said Kureha could not have selected a better site than the DuPont Belle plant.

"I am excited that Kureha has selected West Virginia for its newest manufacturing location, and proud that such a revolutionary product will be made in the Mountain State," Manchin said. "This new partnership of Kureha Corp., DuPont and West Virginia proves that we can compete in the global chemical manufacturing marketplace."

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller said he is thrilled Kureha has become the 20th Japanese company to invest in West Virginia.

"Our state has seen so much growth and success with Japanese companies in recent years, and I have no doubt that with this innovative product being made in Belle, that growth will only continue," Rockefeller said. "Each time you see an important announcement like the one Kureha made today, what you're really seeing are more sound investments in our state's economy, more jobs for West Virginians, and further validation that West Virginia is a serious competitor in the global marketplace."

DuPont Belle Plant Manager Bill Menke said, "We believe the new Kureha plant is a great synergistic fit with our operations here at Belle. It also will support our infrastructure at the site to make all of our businesses more competitive."

The targeted application for PGA is multi-layer PET bottles for carbonated soft drinks and beer. Because PGA offers a gas barrier 100 times greater than that of PET, it is possible to reduce the amount of PET used in these bottles by more than 20 percent, while maintaining the equivalent barrier against carbon dioxide loss. This bottle redesign has the potential of yielding cost reduction as well as source reduction opportunities in the marketplace.

PGA is highly compatible with widely practiced industrial PET recycling processes and its multi-layer designs have been shown to enhance the gas and moisture barrier of bio-based polymers. Through expanded use in biodegradable applications, PGA will further contribute to environmental conservation. In addition, Kureha is working to commercialize industrial applications that utilize the easily controllable hydrolysis rate and excellent mechanical strength of PGA.

For many years there has been no high-volume, cost-effective manufacturing process for PGA, so its production has been limited to relatively small-scale operations for the manufacture of surgical sutures. Kureha is the first and only company to successfully develop technology to produce large volumes of PGA.

In 2002, a 100-ton pilot plant was built at Kureha's Iwaki Factory in Japan, and from then on Kureha has been vigorously developing applications suitable for PGA.

"PGA definitely fits in the sweet spot of Kureha's focus on the triple bottom line: economic, environmental and social responsibility, Iwasaki said. "Our aim is to maximize value while remaining committed to environmental and compliance issues, and in doing so, contribute to the local community as a responsible corporate citizen. When considering the potential unique and diverse opportunities for PGA, we estimate the business could eventually achieve a turnover in excess of $1 billion."

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