Sekisui: important future expected for PVB

Sekisui Chemical Co. is concentrating on increasing production of its interlayer films used in shatterproof automotive glass and other products.
The firm is expecting a recovery in the automobile ind…

Sekisui Chemical Co. is concentrating on increasing production of its interlayer films used in shatterproof automotive glass and other products. The firm is expecting a recovery in the automobile industry, its most important client, but is also considering other sectors in its aim to expand the market for these films. Since summer 2008, the company has been working to boost output of the films and their basic materials at plants in Japan, China and Europe and in April, it announced it had agreed to buy the resin operations of a major US chemical company. So why is Sekisui Chemical investing during the worst global economic crisis in decades? The answer is tomorrow“s potentials – solar cells. “We“re all the more keen on going on the offensive via corporate buyouts because (the interlayer film business) is in such a (dire) situation,” Naofumi Negishi, president of Sekisui Chemical said on 27 April 2009, when the company announced its acquisition of the polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) resin business of US Celanese Corp., aimed at securing a stable supply of the raw material needed for the planned output expansion. Celanese has an annual production of PVA of 120,000 metric tons, enough to supply interlayer film for about 24 million vehicles. Celanese“s PVA business “is expected to boost (Sekisui“s) global market share for auto-use interlayer films above 50%,” said executive officer and head of Sekisui“s interlayer film division Keita Kato. In the summer of 2009, the company announced it would invest about JPY 10 billion (USD 103 million) to boost output of interlayer film in Japan and China, also aiming to double PVB resin output at its Dutch plant by 2010. Sekisui is also developing new applications for its films, such as display systems that show the speed of the car and other information on the windshield, as well as use in hybrid cars and other ecologically friendly vehicles. At the company press conference in April, Kato said that Sekisui “is conducting research into applications for components of solar cells.” In fact, films can be used to replace ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) resin films, which are presently used to bond silicon and protective glass together. According to experts, the use of PVB films make solar cells more expensive but offer an advantage when manufactured in large quantities. The company says it is still only studying the technology, but Negishi acknowledged that Sekisui is “paying attention to it (for applications) in next-generation energy.” Sekisui will, however, have to deal with a number of issues if it wants to enter the solar cell components market, and mainly whether it can make its PVB film products cost-competitive against EVA resin films, or whether the firm can fight competition from rival PVB resin makers.