All posts by Neil A Burns

Decisions

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Decisions As we approach the final surfactants conference, in Singapore, in our 2017 series, I want to write a bit about our central theme for this year, that is decisions. We like to say that our conferences will help attendees be more effective business leaders by making better decisions. So I’d like to explore the nature and complexity of decision-making here – as I do in this year’s conference opening remarks, thereby teeing up some issues for our speakers to talk about in the ensuing one and a half days. As is customary, we start with a video. This time it’s Iron Maiden from their 2011 tour in Santiago, Chile The song is “The Trooper” and it is about one of those curious events in British history when a tragic failure, a defeat, a rout, is somehow held up and celebrated as a great victory, throughout the ages. Every English schoolboy knows the story and while, it is not clear if the Chilean schoolboys at this concert would be familiar with the details, they are more than happy to sing along with gusto. This particular event took place on the Crimean peninsula in the 19th Century and involved a British struggle…

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September 2017 – Surfactants Monthly Review

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Surfactants Monthly Review – September 2017             This month, we dealt with weather, some of which impacted our industry; although most supply chains seem to be back to normal as of the writing of this blog. We also produced two surfactant conferences, Amsterdam and Mumbai. As you know, my attitude is “you gotta be there” and so you won’t see summaries or copies of papers or anything like that here. I am, however, developing a blog post on the central theme of this year’s conferences, decisions. More on that later. At the beginning of the month, the inimitable Judith Taylor of ICIS, in an outstanding analysis, described US detergent range C12-15 alcohol contract prices as “teetering” during the first half of 2017. This as volatile feedstock costs and flat demand pushed back on producer margins barely recovering from benchmark lows in 2016.
”Teetering”, as students of Norse languages will tell you, means “about to fall”. 
US fatty alcohol contract prices were at benchmark lows entering 2016. While that timeframe seems old, it is an important starting point in considering the 2017 price trends.
This is because recovering from the low end of the Q1 2016 range of 53.00-62.00 cents/lb ($1,168.45-1,366.86/tonne), with a…

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Surfactants Review – July 2017

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Surfactants Monthly Review – July 2017 From Coatzacoalcos to the Cantons.. This month we look again at the issue of freedom in our markets. The blog asks the question; can Pemex of Mexico teach Clariant of Switzerland, something on this subject. Mere months ago, this questions would seem preposterous. Today, I’m not so sure. Read on… This month’s first piece is pulled from the an article by the excellent Al Greenwood in ICIS Chemical business and is one which I have waited a long time to read. All comments in bold are mine. Reality finally comes to the Mexican EO Market! In another outstanding analysis, Al writes that Mexican state producer Pemex completed an electronic auction to award supplies of ethylene oxide (EO) to customers in the country.
Pemex said 10 businesses participated in the auction. 
Pemex did not disclose any prices, but said that it was at a level that balanced supply and demand (Wait, what!? Price settles at a level that balances supply and demand? What heresy is this?) Moreover, it exceeded the historical price (surprise!). 
Pemex called the auction a success (Duh..) and said that it left behind the previous cumbersome practice of allocating volumes and prices by the state…

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Surfactants Monthly – June 2017

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Surfactants Monthly – June 2017 1776, NEPIC and the common good.. On this Independence Day here in the US, I think back to my homeland in the UK as I did one year ago in the blog. Mid June, I had the privilege, again, to attend the annual meeting of NEPIC, the Northeast Process Industries Cluster in Teeside in the Northeast of England. This meeting marked the retirement of the first CEO and founder of this outstanding trade organization, Stan Higgins. NEPIC was formed as a voluntary association of companies promoting industry in the Northeast and over 13 years has been incredibly successful. As Stan mentioned to me a couple of weeks ago, in the beginning it was just him, an overhead projector and a whole lot of doubt about the future of the UK chemical industry and the Northeast in particular. Since 2004, 83 process sector investment projects have been delivered in the region valued at £4.3 billion. There are more than 1,400 companies directly involved or in the supply chain of the chemical process industries, generating £26 billion of annual sales. Together they employ 190,000 people and the sector exports £12 billion each year – making this region the only net…

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Surfactants Monthly Report – May 2017

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Surfactants Monthly Short-Review – May 2017 Of Winston Churchill, Oprah Winfrey and Mel Gibson.. First the commercials: All the news this week is courtesy of ICIS. Consider subscribing to their dashboard to get the rest of the stories that are mentioned here. And, of course, if you like what you read here, please consider our conferences which are coming up in Amsterdam, Mumbai and Singapore. You will meet many new companies and learn a lot. Last month in New York, we had our biggest and best conference yet. Scroll down for some pictures and video. End of commercials As reported by ICIS, our good friends and conference sponsor Sasol’s base and performance chemicals sales volumes rose year on year for the nine months ended 31 March, by 6% and 2%, respectively.. 

Higher performance chemicals volumes were unable to offset lower selling prices over the period, causing a fall in revenue at that division.
Within Sasol’s base chemical divisions, polymers sales volumes rose by 11% during the nine-month period, which corresponded to a total of 1.05m tonnes sold, while volumes of solvents stood at 728,000 tonnes, up 7%. Sasol disclosed revenue figures for its other chemical arm, Performance Chemicals, with the July 2016-March 2017 figures down by 3.9% to rand…

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Surfactants Monthly – March and April 2017

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Surfactants Monthly Short-Review – March and April, 2017 Decisions, decisions… First the commercials: All the news this week is courtesy of ICIS. Consider subscribing to their dashboard to get the rest of the stories that are mentioned here. And, of course, if you like what you read here, please consider our upcoming conference in New York, May 17-19 At this flagship event, hundreds of industry leaders will take part in the first surfactant industry awards. You will be amazed at the work and preparation which went into the nominations and entries to this event. “You gotta be there” at the conference to attend the awards. It will be a great time. You’ll learn a lot, meet some great business contacts and make better decisions in your professional life as a result. Don’t miss it. We’ll be spending time talking about decisions, why they are hard, even physically exhausting and how you can make better ones. I won’t give too much away here, but I will examine what I have come to refer to as the “Oprah Effect”. Love her or not, Oprah is talented, focused, driven, hard working, successful, influential and very rich. She’s got a lot to teach the…

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Surfactants Monthly – February 2017

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Surfactants Monthly Review – February, 2017 The Russians are Coming! Before the bulk of our surfactants news, a quick personal update. As many of you know, I have been spending an increasing portion of my time as CEO of a venture-backed technology start-up, P2 Science. In February, we closed on our B round of equity financing, bringing in $9.55 Million of new investment into the company. This was accomplished primarily by bringing in two large new investors, BASF Ventures and Xeraya Capital. BASF, I think everyone knows. Ventures is their venture capital company. Xeraya is based in Malaysia and is very active in the life sciences and health sectors. P2 is their first chemical investment. With this new capital, the company starts to build our first commercial manufacturing plant for F&F ingredients. The proprietary chemical manufacturing technology ( no bugs, algae, yeast, enzymes etc..) has been developed and patented over the last five years at our labs in New Haven and Woodbridge, CT. To learn more you can read the PR on our website and on BASF’s. OK back to surfactants, with the news courtesy largely of ICIS. Subscribe to their dashboard to get the rest of the stories that are…

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Surfactants Monthly – January 2017

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Surfactants Monthly – January 2017  January is always ACI month in the surfactants calendar. This year’s ACI was distinguished by the return of Burns and Muir (this time with Blackmon and Campbell) to the winner’s (2nd place) podium at the P&G golf outing. The rich prize money was, on this occasion, dwarfed by the prestigious Tide trophy which will receive pride of place on our mantelpiece (once the detergent inside has been used). If you’re looking for a summary of ACI proceedings here or some Page Six style ACI gossip, stop reading now (and by the way, get a life, if it was the gossip you were after). We don’t do that here because, as regular readers know, “you gotta be there” is our attitude to industry events. If you did miss the ACI, I suppose your only recourse (in addition possibly to going to Confession) is to make sure you absolutely do not miss our 7th ICIS Surfactants Conference, May 17 – 19th in Jersey City, NJ. The blog is being written while the superbowl pre-game chunters on in the background. For our industry, a superbowl of sorts has already been playing out all of last year and is…

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December 2016 Surfactant Monthly

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December 2016 Surfactant Review The News Phrase of the month? “Fake News”. That is not what you will find here. With the invaluable support of my good friends at ICIS, I am able to bring you the real news about what happened this last month in the surfactants markets. We have a companion blog posting on a 2016 Retrospective, which has hardly anything to do with surfactant news, focused rather on my thoughts on the year, on a thousand years of history and some interesting music for your contemplation. That blog post is here at this link. First a commercial, which I permit you to skip right now, by going to the next paragraph. A lot of what we talk about in this blog (and that includes the music) is brought to life in our surfactant conferences which are produced around the world and throughout the year. In 2017, we will be in New York, Western Europe, Mumbai and Singapore. Check our surfactants portal here for updated information. As always, we bring you original content and the best networking opportunities in the industry. New York in May, sees our first awards ceremony and a number of first-time ever speakers. We’re…

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2016 Retrospective

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2016 Retrospective Division This is not the December 2016 Surfactant Review. That is in a separate post, at this link. This post here consists of some of my thoughts about 2016 and the near future, interspersed with topical music video mostly from my youth. By reading this post, you will likely not learn much, if anything, about surfactants. So, if it is surfactants news and analysis you are after, go to this link for our December 2016 Surfactants Monthly. End of disclaimer. 2016 was characterized as one of “division” and much popular opinion deemed it therefore a bad year and one to be dismissed with “good riddance”. In fact, just today (December 28th), a 2016 good riddance party was held in New York. Of course it seems that division is the worst characterization of all that can be made of any situation and divisiveness is right up there with the sloth, gluttony et al in the popular firmament of modern sins. In any event, 2016 is being branded the year of division for reasons which I understand but into which I think we should dig a little deeper. Looking back in even recent history, one sees much greater division and…

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Surfactants Monthly – November 2016

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Surfactants Monthly – November 2016 Of Snowflakes and Status Quo Word of the month for me in November was “snowflake”. It seemed that, starting November 9th, the term snowflake came to describe those, mostly young, individuals prompted to weep openly in large groups at the prospect of things turning out, not quite as expected. One wonders how they might fare in the world of chemicals or indeed, surfactants or oleochemicals, where the status quo shifts with alarming irregularity. In my view, the only status quo on which one can rely to deliver expected outcomes is the creator of the following 4 minutes of 3 chord bliss: Similarly reliable is the ICIS news team who provides most of the raw material for this blog. Please check out their dashboard and subscribe. I do. Now to the news.. Finally some better news out of Brazil: As ICIS reported from the Oxiteno earnings call, they are seeing a firming of the Brazil economy starting in the third quarter of 2016. 
The firming was reflected in Oxiteno’s sales volumes for the third quarter. 
The company’s Brazilian sales reached 145,000 tonnes, up 7% from 135,000 tonnes from the same time last year. 
Compared with the…

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Surfactant Monthly Review – October 2016

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October 2016 – Surfactants Monthly The nine most terrifying words… October was a big news month and so I won’t waste a lot of time on commercials except to note that, next week, I’ll be in Singapore for a bunch of meetings and the sixth Asian Surfactant Conference in Singapore. Please join me there, November 8 – 9th at the Marina Bay Sands. On Monday the 7th we have our business training course. I also want to remind readers that if you like this news content, you can get stuff like this every single day, all day, 24/7, 365 (get the picture!) at www.icis.com. Subscribe to the dashboard, like I do. You won’t regret it. Now the news: In Berlin, the talk was all about Palm and I expect the same in Singapore next week. As reported by ICIS, Malaysia’s crude palm oil (CPO) production increased for the second month running in September, but crude palm kernel oil (CPKO) production declined after recovering in August, according to official data from the Malaysian Palm Oil Board.
The country saw its CPO production increased from 1,701,831 tonnes in August to 1,715,125 tonnes in September, marking a second consecutive month of increase, but still…

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Love - to the Seventh Generation

Surfactant Monthly Review – September 2016

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September 2016 – Surfactants Monthly The highlight of the month for me, of course, was the trip to Berlin and the 5th ICIS European Surfactant Conference. We were fortunate enough to have one of ICIS’ young up-and-coming journalists cover the whole thing for us so I will post a few links to Melissa Bartlett’s surfactant articles in a separate post. Coming up next month we have the 6th (already!) Asian Surfactant Conference in Singapore. Please join me there, November 8 – 9th at the Marina Bay Sands. As always, the day before, we have our business training course as an optional extra for all conference attendees. End of commercial. Here’s the news: A big new refinery project in China will include ethylene oxide capacity, according to ICIS. China’s Zhejiang Rongsheng is building a joint venture refinery-petrochemical complex in Zhoushan, with the first phase due to start up in late 2018.
The yuan (CNY) 160bn ($24bn) project, which will be built in two phases in China’s eastern Zhejiang province, is expected to have an overall refining capacity of 40m tonnes/year or 800,000 bbl/day. 
It will have an ethylene capacity of 2.8m tonnes/year, with aromatics production estimated at 10.4m tonnes/year, and will include a propane dehydrogenation (PDH)…

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August 2016 – No Review this Month – Music Videos Instead

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No Monthly Review for August – Music Videos Instead This month was consumed by work and a proper vacation for a welcome change. Instead of a surfactants review, therefore, I am going to pull a selection of music videos that represent, for me some themes of the summer that just passed. Allow some time for this whole post to load.. First for those who worked all summer, who better than Bananarama from the early 80’s: Some classic NYC scenes, including from Jersey City.. If you are still feeling regretful about working instead of the basting on the beach, consider this classic from Madness. Going one step beyond in your work is OK. Don’t be ashamed of it. Just make sure you do it in all your walks of life, not just work.. As I trawled the internet looking for songs this summer, I got to thinking just how many songs feature, in a very glamorous light, towns and cities in the USA, some very small. For example, even my little adopted home-town, Freehold, NJ has its own paean written and sung by Bruce Springsteen here.. I distinctly remember coming to the US in 1984 and going on my first business trip…

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Surfactants Monthly Review – July 2016

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Surfactants Monthly – July 2016 Of Bucks Fizz, Kim and a Pricey Razor Herewith our summary for the month of July, as always, with the much appreciated help of the news team at ICIS. I strongly urge readers who want real-time news across the whole chemicals value chain to subscribe to the dashboard. “We’re from the government and we’re here to help” – words to cast a chill over any industry and the US cleaning industry is no exception. As reported at the beginning of the month, the American Cleaning Institute (ACI) wants to reduce or eliminate the government encouraged, use of animal fats in biodiesel. The reason is that its members are losing out to biofuels under EPA’s Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).
Animal fats are a key feedstock for oleochemical producers, which help supply makers of soap, laundry detergents, fabric softeners, hard surface cleaners, dish detergents and personal care products, as well as many other everyday consumer and industrial products.
”The proposed (RFS) volumes would continue to divert large quantities of a finite, inelastic supply of animal fats to the biofuels market, thereby critically disadvantaging the domestic oleochemical industry,” said Jacob Cassady, ACI associate director of government affairs.
”EPA has a responsibility, if…

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