The groundbreaking ceremony for the Tokyo-based company's new production plant took place April 7, 2008, at the DuPont site in Belle, W.Va. Kureha is investing more than $100 million in a new, wholly-owned subsidiary to build the plant dedicated to the production of polyglycolic acid (PGA).
In the past, PGA has been limited to small scale operations making surgical sutures because manufacturers had no cost-effective process to produce the resin in high volumes.
Not any more.
"The breakthrough is in the technology to make PGA commercially viable; to cost-effectively produce it in large volumes," said Tom Provost, plant manager for subsidiary Kureha PGA LLC. "The PGA resin has good gas barrier properties "” 100 times better than conventional PET. PGA is biodegradable and compatible with PET recycling processes."
The ease with which PGA can be processed and its superior properties as a barrier to carbon dioxide and oxygen finally make possible the commercial production of PET bottles for products with a long shelf life. This has the potential to "revolutionize the soft drink industry," Kureha has predicted in business reports.
"With the development of this breakthrough technology and the strong intellectual property surrounding our work," said Dr. Takao Iwasaki, president and chief executive officer of Kureha Corporation, "PGA will become a centerpiece in the company's strategy of focusing on value-added, highly differentiated products."
West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin said, "This new partnership of Kureha Corp., DuPont and West Virginia proves that we continue to lead in the global chemical and polymer manufacturing marketplace. I am excited that Kureha has selected West Virginia for its newest manufacturing location, and proud that such a revolutionary product will be made in the Mountain State."
"Kureha is the 20th Japanese company to invest in West Virginia," said Senator Jay Rockefeller. "Here, Kureha will be met with endless support, steadfast workers, and a location where they'll want to do nothing but expand. With more companies like Kureha coming here "”and, more importantly, staying here "” I believe we're seeing just a fraction of the growth we can expect for many years to come."
The Belle project differs from previous Kureha operations in the United States, said Provost, who previously served as vice president of Fortron, a joint partnership between Celanese's Ticona division and Kureha in Wilmington, N.C. In 2007, he retired from Celanese in 2007 and joined Kureha.
"Kureha is designing, building and operating the Belle plant itself," he said.
Construction is expected to start by mid-summer and be completed near the end of 2009. The initial phase will be a semi-commercial plant that will create up to 50 new chemical operations jobs.
"The PGA production facility will look similar to other chemical and polymer plants," Provost said, "The differences are less a matter of unique equipment and more about the innovative chemicals used, and the operating parameters and sequence that Kureha put together."
Kureha will start hiring the operator team leadership in early 2009, Provost said, and operators in mid year. PGA production is scheduled to begin in 2010.
"The Kanawha Valley has a long-standing history with the chemical industry," said Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito, "and the new Kureha facility will reinforce that important partnership. Kureha brings $100 million of investment to our state and that is excellent news for local workers, and for the local economy. They are a well-respected business and I'm excited to welcome them to West Virginia."
Kureha is actively recruiting to fill three engineer positions: two chemical and one mechanical. The goal is to have the engineers in place by mid-April so they can be actively involved in the next milestone: plant engineering and construction.
The company has so far been finding the skills it needs in the West Virginia talent pool.
"The top candidates for the engineering positions includes one in West Virginia, and one native West Virginian who left and is now coming home," Provost said. "I expect we will find the operators we will need here as well."
Workforce West Virginia services help with job advertising and recruiting. Later, said Provost, the agency will help with training.