The leap across the pond
Degussa and Hüls in Mobile, Alabama
Degussa’s heading in a new direction
As the first excavators rolled up in 1974 to reclaim a 160 hectare site near the town of Mobile in Alabama/ USA for a new location, Degussa AG was once again heading in a new direction. Unlike many German chemical companies, Degussa had decided not to buy into the US American chemical business, but to set itself up against competition in North America and the rest of the world with its own local production facility and its own technologies. Degussa Alabama Inc. was established specifically for this purpose on November 26, 1973. The favorable infrastructure connections at the site in the Gulf of Mexico tipped the scales in favor of the location at Mobile.
Manufacture of core products
Construction work was soon underway. Just a few months after the company’s formation, two commercial plants were built in the initial construction phase in 1974 for the production of AEROSIL silica and the manufacture of methionine, a feed additives product. The company had already been successfully exporting AEROSIL and methionine, two of the core products in the Degussa portfolio, to the USA since the mid 1960s. The year 1974 also saw the construction of a production plant for silicon tetrachloride, which is used in the manufacture of silicic acid. Following completion of the second expansion phase, the cyanuric chloride plants started production in 1978. This raw material is essential for intermediate products in plastic synthesis, among other applications.
The merger a year earlier, in 1977, of the marketing company Degussa Inc., New York and Degussa Alabama Inc. to form the Degussa Corporation, was an important step in the company’s bundling of its activities in North America. At present, all these activities are part of Evonik Industries with a host of locations in the USA, Canada and Mexico, as well as numerous joint ventures with various partners. The Mobile plant in Alabama is still the largest Evonik site in North America.
There were also clear growth indicators in the 1980s, as the plant continued to expand its production operations. The commissioning of the hydrogen peroxide plant represented an important development stage. Hydrogen peroxide is obtained in various concentrations from hydrogen and oxygen and used as a bleaching agent in paper, water and wood processing as well as in waste water and exhaust air treatment.
Two economic milestones also illustrate the expansion of the Degussa Corp. and the Mobile facility: in 1988 the number of employees active at the company exceeded the 1,000 mark for the first time, and in the same year sales past the USD 1 billion mark. The year 1989 saw the start of a comprehensive new investment campaign. Within five years, more than USD 500 million was ploughed into the targeted expansion of the Degussa Corp. Investments were made in nearly all production divisions from A for AEROSIL to X for X 50-S, a silane which is used in the rubber industry to improve the material properties of rubber.
In 1995 Degussa Corp. entered new technological territory once again. It was the first company in the world to transport hydrogen peroxide by ship – a pioneering technical and logistic feat in terms of transport management. Since then the liquid material has been shipped out from the new loading station in Alabama via the Mississippi and other rivers to Lemont near Chicago.
Hüls plant in Mobile
When Hüls AG acquired the chemicals division of Dynamit Nobel AG in 1988, it also gained a production workshop for silane. Kay Fries, Dynamit Nobel AG’s agent in the USA had purchased land in Mobile in 1978 and built a silane production plant there three years later for the manufacture of DYNASIL and DYNASILAN. Further organic intermediate products were added to the list. Immediately after the transfer to Hüls AG, plans were underway to build a plant for isophorone derivatives. The foundation stone was laid in 1990, although the initial focus was on expanding the silane plant. Finally, in 1992, the isophorone derivatives were added - isophorone diamine and isophorone nitrile, used for example in car paints, adhesives and various plastics. Two years later trimethyl hexamethylene diisocyanate was added to the product range, and the isophorone diamine plant was also extended.
Merger of locations
A new chapter in the location’s history began in 1999. Following the merger of the former Degussa AG and Hüls AG, the plants of both companies were also combined at the Mobile location. As a symbol of their newly established unity, employees tied the two parts of the works together with ribbons. Expansion of the plants continued with the addition of a plant producing polyester with a low molecular weight (DYNAPOL) in 2000.