PPG Looks To Secure Titanium Dioxide

At an analyst meeting this week in New York City, PPG Industries chief technology officer Charles F. Kahle II announced that his company was looking to partner with a TiO2 producer.

Here’s the context: supplies of TiO2 white pigments and the ores that are used to produce them are exceedingly tight. This has prompted Tronox to merge with the South African mineral sands producer Exxaro and is the reason Saudi Arabia’s Cristal is planning to construct an ilmenite processing plant in Saudi Arabia. Cristal has also been increasing its interest in its mining affiliate in Australia.

And let’s not forget that paint maker AkzoNobel aims to build a white pigment plant in China by 2014. In addition, DuPont is planning to expand capacity by 350,000 metric tons per year, including a new plant in Altamira, Mexico.

Kahle says PPG, one of the world’s largest paint companies, has its own TiO2 technology. The company is willing to form joint ventures, license technology, collaborate technologically, and provide technical assistance with TiO2 producers. He pointed out that the company previously made TiO2 in Natrium, W.Va.

I had never heard of such a plant. So I consulted the C&EN archives. Turns out PPG did have a plant…which closed in 1971 (C&EN, June 28, 1971). To illustrate how long ago that was, let me point out that the number one single when the C&EN article come out was It’s Too Late/I Feel The Earth Move by Carole King.

The plant had opened only two and a half years before. There was overcapacity in the industry and PPG’s source of raw materials, a rutile mining affiliate in Sierra Leone, was in receivership. “PPG says technically the plant was a success, that it was well satisfied with its process, and that it was and still is proud of the plant,” the article said. Apparently, the company is still proud.

There was a rash of plant closures in 1971, the article noted. “It’s beginning to look as if 1971 will be remembered as a year the chemical industry bit the bullet,” it said. (I do like our use of the indefinite article to hedge against the possibility that there could be future years of bullet biting.) Good year for Carole King, though.

Author: Alex Tullo

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