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Sustainability key to Chinese market

By Liu Zhihua | China Daily | Updated: 2019-11-01 10:39

Technicians work at the Elkem Silicones Saint Fons plant in Lyon, France.

Government, enterprises working to introduce environmentally friendly technologies for clean energy, smart cities

China is currently the largest contributor to global economic growth. It is within this context that the second China International Import Expo will be held from Nov 5 to 10. Elkem, a world-leading supplier of silicone and silicon-based solutions headquartered in Oslo, will showcase its sustainability-oriented products, technologies and solutions at the show.

In the run-up to the exhibition, Frederic Jacquin, senior vice-president of Elkem Silicones, spoke with China Daily about the company's take on the Chinese market, and its determination to lend further support to the Chinese government and enterprises alike in moving toward a circular economy and sustainable industry, reducing their environmental footprint and restructuring the end markets on the supply front.

How has Elkem responded to current trends toward sustainability in China and the world at large?

Our products and technologies, which are both high performing and environmentally friendly, have been designed to meet such market trends as clean energy, smart cities and improving quality of life. Sustainability is an important pillar of our business model, as well as one of our core competitive advantages.

Although we are a global leader in producing environmentally friendly materials, we emit carbon dioxide, a situation that cannot be completely avoided in the near future. However, we are working hard to change it for the better as we commit to becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

One of Elkem's goals is to use 20 percent biochar in the production of silicon and ferrosilicon alloys in Norway by 2021, and up to 40 percent by 2030. As of 2018, we had achieved the 20 percent goal ahead of schedule. The technology and processes deployed by us not only allow Elkem's business to flourish, but also make a positive impact on various industries around the world.

Under the wave of sustainable development, what are the market prospects of Elkem's four main divisions: Elkem Silicones, Elkem Silicon Materials, Elkem Foundry Products and Elkem Carbon?

The implementation of China's national agenda for manufacturing upgrade has ushered in a new industrial revolution for China. Chinese manufacturing companies are ramping up their efforts to improve their innovation capabilities in basic components, materials, and processes. This far-reaching high-tech manufacturing revolution is sending shock waves across various industries and applications, including smart living, construction, automobiles, machinery, medical equipment and medical care, personal care and consumer goods.

Sustainability lies at the core of ongoing efforts to foster new growth drivers. As a result, Elkem's silicones, silicon materials, casting and carbon-based materials have been more widely used than ever before in various industries. For example, the appetite for silicones in electric automobiles, batteries, 3D printing and additive manufacturing is soaring, while the demand for casting materials in construction and alloys, and the demand for carbon in smelting and materials applications are on the rise.

What implications does the merging of Bluestar Jiangxi Xinghuo Silicones and Bluestar Lanzhou Silicones into Elkem have for the sustainable growth of the Chinese market?

We believe that cost reductions and efficiency gains are essential prerequisites for the sustainability of the Chinese market. In June 2017, with the strong support of Bluestar Group, Xinghuo Silicones and Lanzhou Silicone Materials became part of Elkem, consolidating our presence in the silicone industry upstream and downstream.

After the merger, we have introduced the advanced Elkem Business System to better manage operations and reduce production time and costs. At the same time, we have maximized the synergies of the group business units operating along the whole silicon industry chain to accelerate our technological innovation and product development and enhance our competitive strength in the market.

China is a big agricultural country, with water and soil at the heart of its sustainable development. What efforts has Elkem made in this regard?

Heavy metal contamination in soils and critical shortages of silicon are acute and widespread challenges for many countries in the world, including China. Under such circumstances, Elkem launched the Si-Agro series, which reduces heavy metal pollution in crops and the mobility of heavy metals in the soil, and can increase farmers' incomes and rice yields, whilst slowing down soil desertification and salinization.

The product range delivers outstanding benefits, while reducing costs. Laboratory, greenhouse and field trials carried out in Hunan province in China, Norway, Sweden and Russia have proved its effectiveness in improving crop quality and yield, and reducing environmental impact.

In addition to the Si-Agro series of products, Elkem has also launched silicone solutions for application in water treatment and plastic recycling.

The Chinese government is a strong advocate of new energy vehicles. What products will Elkem bring to the second CIIE?

Elkem Silicones has contributed a lot to China's new energy vehicle market, working together with a global network of experts to develop innovations and technology solutions for the Chinese market.

Global companies are working hard to increase the cost-effectiveness, performance, longevity and safety of new energy vehicle batteries. The Battery Thermal Management System is a major sore point for battery manufacturers and new energy vehicle manufacturers. At this year's expo, Elkem will introduce two new series of products to battery manufacturers, namely high-insulation, lightweight Bluesil RT foam that can help reduce the weight of cars; and Bluesil ESA for potting and encapsulating components that provides high thermal conductivity and protection for devices in the harshest of environments. In addition, we will also exhibit an acclaimed Bluesil silicone product. With its flame retardancy and insulation, it is ideal for new energy automotive cables.

Could you please talk about Elkem Silicones' success story in China? Will you increase your investment and presence here?

Elkem Silicones was founded in Lyon, France, previously named Rhodia Silicones. It moved into the Chinese mainland market in the 1980s, in the early years of China's reform and opening-up. It launched its first production site in Shanghai in 1995. Over the past 20 years, we have been a part of China's economic miracle. In 2007, we were acquired by China National Bluestar (Group)Co Ltd. Since then our French factory's silicone production and formulating technologies have been gradually brought into China and have been further developed here.

Elkem has not only been involved in and benefited from the fast-growing Chinese silicones market, but also actively taken it forward. We are happy to share our best practices and technologies with Chinese companies as part of our efforts to drive the prosperity of the materials industry and end markets.

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