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//The heat is on - Chemspec Europe 2011

Chemspec Europe, the only dedicated event for custom, fine and speciality chemicals, returned to Geneva’s Palexpo on 15-16 June, once again alongside the outsourcing expo Chemsource. Most of the exhibitors who braved the stifling temperatures of Palexpo on set-up day and the astonishing cost of living in Geneva were upbeat both about the state of the market and their success at the show.

Broadly speaking, exhibitors agreed that the first day of Chemspec Europe was, as usual, busier than the second. Some who had not been present for a few years – for example Phil Dobson of Exwold Technologies – commented that the show was busier than they remembered, while there was a general, though not universal consensus, that it was busier than at Berlin in 2010.

Walk-up business was rare though not unknown; most business was done and contacts renewed via pre-arranged meetings at their stands. Several major companies said that they had done just this, others commenting that they find Chemspec useful simply to meet existing customers under one roof. In that way, it is “manageable and resource-efficient,” commented Ron Epstein, managing director of US firm Halocarbon

“You really need to make appointments, there are no tyre-kickers at trade shows any more,” Epstein added. By means of scheduling meetings and filling in the gaps on site, he added, the company had a very productive show. Halocarbon is very busy at present, indeed it is struggling to keep up with demand for its core products like TFA, while its pilot plant is running flat out to supply material for early stage projects.

All kinds of end-use markets were represented among visitors, as befits a horizontal show. Those who were addressing the agrochemicals market, were particularly upbeat, given the bounce that the sector has experienced this year as well as the traditionally strong ago attendance at Chemspec Europe. Whilst this is a much smaller show for pharma than CPhI, however, there was still a good level of pharma business, as well as many in specialities of all kinds.

It was also notable that complaints about the extensive Chinese presence have become a thing of the past. This probably peaked in 2007, when Chinese companies accounted for exactly half of the exhibitors – though much less of the floor space. Now they are more like 25%. More to the point, virtually everyone sources raw materials from China and the opportunity to talk to potential suppliers is appreciated.

For instance, Peter Classen, a business manager at Novasep Synthesis, commented that the people he had seen at the show divide roughly equally into four groups, all of whom he wanted to see: established customers, potential customers, competitors and others coming up to the stand speculatively, including would-be suppliers.

In the same vein, Andy Harris, CEO of another US firm, Syrgis, said: “We have had a roughly equal numbers of meetings with suppliers and customers. You can boost your EBITDA by increasing sales but also by improved sourcing and the sourcing side of Chemspec is very important to us.”

Right at the front of the hall and with the largest stand in the hall was Lanxess’s fine chemicals subsidiary Saltigo. The company was celebrating a fifth anniversary in its birthplace. It was formally announced at Informex 2006 and exhibited in its own right for the first time at Chemspec Europe 2006 in Geneva.

Saltigo was mainly there to highlight its exclusive synthesis for the agrochemical and pharmaceutical industries and CEO Wolfgang Schmitz said that the response to this had been good. The company’s business in agro, he added, is very strong this year and customers had told him they were expecting a good 2012. In pharma, pipelines are generally weak, though the trend towards outsourcing is still strong.

“I believe that we will see additional opportunities from pharma companies in outsourcing,” Schmitz said. “The contract manufacturing industry is very fragmented, though, and there is a lot of competition from Asia so I see a consolidation as overview.” Customers, he added, are increasingly seeing the need to bring back molecules to Europe because they want to have a ‘European pillar’ to their supplier landscape.

“Once a company, a capacity or a technology has gnoe from Europe, it will never come back. I believe customers are looking for potential strategic partners who are financially stable and sustainable in production, business quality, HSE practices and competitive on price – and that many see us this way,” he added.

The stand also showcased Saltigo’s expertise in the non-exclusive synthesis of sophisticated intermediates and important synthetic building blocks. The company is seeking to double its presence in this field in the next five years, though, as Schmitz stressed, this is an add-on to its business, not a strategic change in direction.

Since 2005, Saltigo has developed and marketed its own products in the areas of polymer additives, fragrances, aromas and electronic and cosmetic intermediates. The agrochemicals sector, for instance in generic substances, is another interesting target market for multi-customer intermediates. Key own products include toluidine derivatives and products from phosgene chemistry, such as chloroformates and carbonylbisimidazole, plus the insect repellent Saltidin.

WeylChem is another major contract manufacturer which, like Saltigo, is stronger in agro than pharma. Dr Andrea Missio, business development director, was in buoyant mood on Day Two, both about the show and the state of the market.

“The WeylChem group of companies in general is doing well. It will be a positive year for us. We are seeing substantial growth in the US, where we have good assets and there is a pragmatic attitude,” he said. “Customers, particularly in the speciality field, don’t want to invest and they are looking to people like us with good assets.”

Business is also strong in Europe, Missio added; companies like WeylChem are doing good business in agro, where customers are rebuilding stocks after a lull in 2010. The company’s Corden Pharma platform also saw visitors from companies including Boehringer-Ingelheim, Novartis, Sanofi-Aventis and Roche, according to Dr Peter Rosyk, a marketing manager for fine chemicals and contract manufacturing.

CU Chemie Uetikon, by contrast, is 90-95% pharma-focused, 60-70% of that being contract manufacturing. The company also had a successful show and saw plenty of customers despite the pharmaceuticals industry being increasingly stifled by a sluggish product pipeline and being distracted by the M&A process, according to sales and marketing manager Dr Michael Stohlmeier.

Uetikon has recently added a production scale reactor with a capacity of 2,500 litres that can go up to +180˚C, as well as starting development work on intermediates. One of these is Nagata’s Reagent, which Stohlmeier said, was unavailable at commercial scale that the company needed it at. It is also developing a growing number of mew molecules that are not available on the market and which it hopes the Chinese will not be able to copy so readily.

Also mainly pharma-focused but doing productive business was Dottikon Exclusive Synthesis. The firm had a difficult 2010 and lost money, but has continued to invest, notably in expanding its cGMP capabilities, its drying function and new APIs, according to chief of staff Dr Roger Herger. It has also increased its R&D spend with a focus on route-finding, as pharma customers are increasingly coming to it with less well developed routes for which they urgently need cost-effective alternatives.

Switzerland’s RohnerChem, a pure contract manufacturer without its own products, has also done good business before and at Chemspec. Dr Markus Wyss, head of marketing and sales, said that 2009 had been poor but business had recovered well and could even beet budget this year, “which is a big surprise for me. We are almost completely booked out, with only a few slots free,” he added.

UK firm Contract Chemicals reported a lot of interest on the show floor in the new capacity it announced in the run-up to Geneva. A new, high efficiency distillation facility will become operational at its Knowsley site near Liverpool in November and it is also planning a continuous UV reactor within its high-containment plant that will give it some 200 tonnes/year of extra capacity for brominated compounds.

“Some people came up and asked us about this – announcing it beforehand showed our commitment,” said group managing director Dr Tony Bastock. He added that Contract Chemicals had “a good recession”, thanks to its strong position in agrochemicals and that business levels overall were quite strong.

Looking more to specialites, Clariant returned to Chemspec under the banner ‘Enabling Smart Solutions’. Its focus was on building blocks and two new solvents, Highsolv P99 and Highsolv E99, which it describes as viable alternatives to toxic or flammable standard solvents in organic synthesis.

“We had a high level of interest in the new solvents and we are very happy about this,” said Dr Silke Wetzenstein, director of the Building Blocks product line, within the firm’s Swiss-based Detergents & Intermediates business unit. “Things started slowly but there was a big increase in traffic on Day One and we had a lot of arranged meetings.”

Global speciality chemicals company Chemtura, finally, used its first presence at the show to launch its new toll and contract manufacturing service into the European market. Interviewed in the final hours of the show, Dr Stefan Neubauer, who will head the service, said that he had received a lot of interest.

This offer will cover such core Chemtura technologies as the acid-catalysed alkylation of phenols and cresols, N-Alkylation of amines, chloromethylation of aromates, thionyl chloride, sulphuryl chloride, phosphorous chloride and phosphorus oxychloride chemistries, the manufacture of dispersions and emulsions and base-catalysed trans-esterification. Chemspec Europe 2011 was the first time the firm had systematically marketed them.

Another very obvious trend was the interest in flow chemistry. 2011 saw the launch of the Flow Chemistry Zone and suppliers of microreactors and related technology like AM Technology and Chemtrix were based there. It was also standing room only at the RSC Symposium, which focused on flow chemistry this year; the lecture theatre was full for almost every single presentation.

Chemspec Europe 2012 will return to the Gran Via Exhibition Centre in Barcelona, where the very successful 2009 show was held, on 13-14 June 2012. For more information, see www.chemspeceurope.com

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