Solenis Growth Addresses Industry Trends, Customer Value

It’s been five years since global specialty chemical company Solenis spun off from Ashland. Since then, the company has followed an aggressive growth strategy that relied heavily on merger and acquisition activity, completing nine deals to add geographic reach, new technology platforms and additional product line offerings.

Having completed its most ambitious venture on January 31, 2019 by successfully joining forces with BASF’s paper and water chemicals business, the company continues to focus on growth by developing value-added chemicals, process solutions and monitoring and control systems for water-intensive industries. The goal, according to Solenis President and CEO John Panichella, is to substantially change the landscape for customers in industries such as pulp and paper manufacturing, biorefining, chemical processing, mining, oil and gas and power generation. 

“We’ve used these acquisitions to achieve two important objectives,” Panichella said. “The first is to establish a geographic presence to supply the market directly. The second is to improve our technical portfolio in the key vertical markets we serve. And, if we can’t acquire the technology to help us grow, we rely on our specialized R&D teams to develop it.”

Although its acquisitions have been getting the most attention, Solenis has continued an equally aggressive campaign of plant expansions and new product development to better serve customers in key growth areas, including:

  • Adding its ninth manufacturing plant in the Asia Pacific region in Zhuhai City, Guandgdong Province, China, to make functional, water and process chemistries
  • Opening a new technology center in Paulínia, São Paulo, Brazil, to better serve the Latin America region
  • Doubling polyacrylamide production capacity at its plant in Perm, Russia, and adding new production lines for sizing and defoamer products

An important metric Panichella noted, is that 25 per cent of Solenis sales come from products that are less than five years old. “That keeps our R&D teams focused on identifying key trends and customer challenges emerging in industries around the world,” he said.

Key Global Trends Shaping the Paper Industry

Sustainable alternatives

One area of global focus is in developing environmentally friendly packaging.

“The paper industry has been elevating its focus on sustainability concerns for more than a decade,” said Andreas Tuerk, Solenis President, Paper and Water, Eurasia. “They look to suppliers like Solenis to help them reduce consumption of natural resources and energy and develop environmentally friendly packaging that is recyclable and repulpable.”

To address this need, Solenis offers TopScreen™ fully recyclable and compostable barrier coatings technology (see sidebar Creating Environmentally Friendly Packaging). Derived from sustainably produced vegetable oils, TopScreen can replace paraffin and polyethylene coatings – substances that present challenges in recycling – used in candy twists, beverage cups, breakfast-food wraps, bread bags and other packaging elements.

Increased demand for packaging materials

Similarly, as global eCommerce continues to flourish, the market for corrugated and paperboard boxes are growing rapidly, according to a study by the Fredonia Group[1], reported in SuppyChain24/7[2]. As a result, there is a universal desire to develop packaging that’s strong enough to withstand the rigors of shipping, but as light as possible to save on shipping costs. 

Achieving sheet strength efficiently and profitably has long been a quest of paper-based packaging producers. For many years, mills were able to meet strength requirements using tried-and-true tools, like fiber selection, refining, sheet formation and wet pressing. However, certain trends make this a difficult proposition, including increasing recycled content, decreasing old corrugated container (OCC) quality, increasing water system closure and reducing packaging weights or volumes.

Single-component strength additives have been challenged to deliver the necessary performance to respond to these trends. Having joined forces with BASF, Solenis provides the most robust portfolio of retention drainage fixations and strength solutions on the market. For example, using a novel approach combining best-in-class chemistry with state-of-the-art process control analytics, Solenis developed FusionSM strength and performance technology, which gives paper, and board manufacturers more flexibility in developing new grades to address market trends. 

New innovations to provide competitive advantages

Solenis has always been known as an innovator whose breakthroughs impact both papermaking processes and end products. Examples include:

  • The imPress™ ID line of paper additives which improves the runnability and performance of HP Indigo Digital Presses, generating print adhesion as much as eight times more effectively than common products on the market
  • TapestrySM Yankee Coatings Solutions that help tissue makers meet increasing demands for softer, stronger and more absorbent processes, thereby improving manufacturing performance and controlling operational costs
  • MicroSolSM advanced retention and drainage solutions that help graphic and specialty papers manufacturers improve colloidal retention, drainage and dewatering, also optimizing starch use and formation

In addition, following the BASF deal, Solenis now offers a full range of colorant products designed to provide a wide spectrum of colors, enhancing an extensive variety of paper, tissue and board grades (see sidebar Colorants to Build Competitive Advantage).

Finally, in the face of rapidly rising silicone prices, Solenis has developed high-efficiency silicone defoamers that deliver advanced knockdown and drainage characteristics to meet customer performance expectations while also controlling program costs. 

Key Global Trends Shaping the Industrial Water Market

More demand for water reuse, water quality and regulatory compliance

Water quality, water scarcity and regulatory compliance are main concerns in nearly every market Solenis serves.

“Reduction of water use is an important issue for heavy industries around the world, as companies work to meet their sustainability initiatives and address government regulation of this precious resource,” said Ed Connors, Solenis President, Paper and Water, Americas.

Connors believes those trends will continue as companies assess the overall impact of their water usage, from social and environmental perspectives to compliance and scarcity considerations. China, for instance, recently imposed more restrictions on air and water pollution, going so far as to close non-compliant plants.

“We have decades of experience helping customers with both water treatment and water conservation challenges,” Connors said. “So, we are uniquely equipped as a technology and service provider to help customers tackle these issues.”

Greater demand for PAM

The market for polyacrylamide (PAM) in water treatment has also tightened due to increased demand. With the complement of BASF’s paper and water chemicals business, Solenis is a strong No. 2 player in this market, well positioned to secure the supply of PAM for its customers. In addition, Solenis offers a full complement of PAM products, including cationics used in paper, industrial and municipal wastewater applications, as well as anionic and nonionic polymers used in mining, oil and gas and other applications.

Profitability and productivity

Because water is used as a heat transfer fluid in many industries, the presence of scaling and impurities in heating and cooling water is another important issue everywhere, from paper to chemical processing. Solenis’ state-of-the-art OnGuard™ i controller with Leak Alert not only helps control corrosion rates and minimize scale, it also provides early warning of potential equipment malfunction, enabling rapid response and corrective action.

One of the most water-intensive industries, the mining and mineral-processing sector also struggles with scaling in ore processing. Unlike many competitive antiscalant chemistries, Solenis’ newest Zalta™ antiscalants effectively reduce scale formation, even under extreme conditions. Real-time remote monitoring is also possible to verify performance.

Key Global Trends Shaping Both the Paper and Industrial Water Markets

Loss of expertise from a retiring workforce

Across the industry, as experienced workers retire, more companies are relying on outside resources for support. With decades of experience in the role of a trusted advisor, Solenis has a reputation for helping customers solve highly complex customer challenges quickly and precisely.

“We have thousands of passionate professionals who work together across 120 countries and five continents to deliver innovative and cost-effective solutions,” Panichella said. “The addition of BASF only enhanced those capabilities, giving our customers access to an unmatched level of expertise and product selection.”

Increased demand for digital solutions

In a related issue, companies in all industries are also seeking digital solutions to help address productivity concerns, especially in monitoring their manufacturing systems.

“About 20 years ago, we recognized a need to support customers with application-specific monitoring and control technologies that allowed them to see how their water systems were performing on a daily or even hourly basis,” Panichella said. “That’s why we developed the OnGuard™ technology.”

The OnGuard™ performance-based monitoring and controls system is recognised for its ability to enable real-time measurement of key performance indicators. About two years ago, the company added the ClearPointSM biofilm detection and control program for industrial cooling and influent water. This system uses the OnGuard™ 3B analyzer, combined with advanced chemical treatment and Solenis’ industry-leading applications expertise.

In addition, Solenis recently launched OPTIX™ applied intelligence that combines real-time predictive analytics and machine learning to create tailored models and process insights that help customers optimise their production processes. In one example, a North American paperboard producer used OPTIX to reduce its wet strength chemistry costs by approximately 20 per cent.

“These new solutions have raised customer expectations,” Panichella said. “No one wants to wait until a scheduled operation or shutdown to measure what is occurring with their water systems.”


Creating Environmentally Friendly Packaging

As countries and municipalities take aim at the mountains of waste from discarded packaging materials, Solenis has created a family of barrier coatings that can be used to create environmentally friendly packaging.

In fact, the company was one of 12 winners in the NextGen Cup Challenge, a global innovation competition backed by giants of the food-service industry to redesign a widely recyclable and/or compostable fibre hot and cold to-go cup. The Challenge attracted nearly 500 entries from more than 50 countries.

Solenis received the award in the Innovative Cup Liners category for its TopScreen™ recyclable and compostable barrier coatings. Using this technology, paper/paperboard manufacturers and converters can produce paper and board that is repulpable, recyclable and compostable.

The Solenis barrier coating solutions are water-based biopolymers and bio-waxes derived from renewable resources. That means papermakers can satisfy consumer demand and produce more environmentally friendly cups and food packaging.

The new formulations can be adapted to accommodate a number of additional requirements, including printability, flexibility or elasticity and glueability. They can also be applied on paper machine coaters or off-machine coaters, or during converting on wax applicators or corrugators.

Colorants to Build Competitive Advantage

After joining forces with BASF’s paper and water chemicals business, high-quality Solenis colorants cover virtually all paper and board grades.

  • Liquid and powder direct dyes that resist fading, bleeding and chemicals
  • Pigments specially manufactured for use in high light fastness printing papers
  • Basic dye range used for tinting newsprint and wood-containing papers

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