Business Update: January 2023 | AIChE

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Business Update: January 2023

Business Update

Solvay is going to process more trona

Sodium Carbonate

Belgian chemical company, Solvay, resumed construction work on their $200 million sodium carbonate (soda ash) expansion in Green River, WY.

Some context. Soda ash can be produced synthetically, for example, via Hou’s process and the Solvay process. In the U.S., however, the majority of the soda ash comes from trona, a mineral found in large quantities near Green River, WY. About half of the world’s soda ash is used to make glass (by lowering the melting point of silica), and the rest is used to make detergents, soaps, and various chemicals, such as sodium silicate.

So, what’s the deal here? Solvay jointly acquired this site with AGC from Tenneco in 1992 and has been operating it ever since. The two companies decided to expand production from 2 million tons per year to 2.15 million tons per year in 2017, and then announced plans to expand the site further to 2.75 million tons per year in 2019. But that latest expansion project was placed on hold when COVID-19 rolled around.

Bigger picture. Soda ash made from trona is less energy intensive to produce than soda ash made from Hou’s process or the Solvay process. So, as Solvay attempts to reduce its emissions while increasing its global capacity, it makes sense to invest in the most energy-efficient production process. Maybe that’s why Solvay bought out AGC’s 20% stake in the site last May for $120 million.

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