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Technology in Australia 1788-1988Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
Table of Contents

Chapter 9

I Introduction

II The Australian Chemical Industry

III Pharmaceuticals

IV Chemists In Other Industries

V The Dawn Of Modern Chemical Industry - High Pressure Synthesis

VI The Growth Of Synthetic Chemicals - Concentration, Rationalisation And International Links

VII Australian Industrial Chemical Research Laboratories

VIII The Plastics Industry
i Plastics processing
ii Phenol - basis of the first plastic
iii Plastics - the first generation
iv Plastics - the second generation - from petrochemicals
v Styrene monomer - the West Footscray petrochemical complex
vi The Botany petrochemical complex
vii The petrochemical complex at Altona
viii CSR - from sugar alcohol to petrochemical OXO alcohol

IX The Paint Industry

X Acknowledgements



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The ingredients of successful technology and technology transfer (continued)

Hoechst Australia Ltd. commenced production of high density polyethylene and organic pigments (in particular toluidine scarlets, Hansa and benzidene yellows) during 1966. This was followed by the construction of a plant for the production of expandable polystyrene and styrene acrylic dispersions by BASF Australia Ltd. in 1967.

The common link between Dow, BF Goodrich and BASF, was CSR Chemicals, the three companies being respectively known as CSRC-Dow, BF Goodrich-CSRC, and Badocol Pty. Ltd., the latter was initially a joint company between BASF, Dow and CSR Chemicals. The impetus for each of these companies' involvement was the need to have Australian production in order to protect, or in some cases obtain, Australian markets in the face of substantial tariff protection, which favoured local production instead of imports. Each brought special and sophisticated technology which was backed by significant research and development effort from the parent companies in USA and Germany. In most cases, there were significant increases in capacity. In 1970, Altona Petrochemical Company built a new steam cracking facility based on ethane feedstock which had become available from the natural gas fields discovered in Bass Strait in the mid 1960s. Ethane cracking was a technology new to Australia.

The driving forces. The start-up of a green-site petrochemical plant is a major undertaking dependent on coincidence of a series of conditions -a market opportunity, the availability of technology, management expertise, access to raw materials, confidence in the political and social environment and, of course, the profit motive. All these conditions were met in Victoria at Altona in the 1960s. Stanvac could raise the necessary funds and had a uniquely favourable access to liquid petroleum feedstocks; but as the ownership of foreign oil fields changed later from the oil companies to the Governments of the Middle East and elsewhere, this favourable access disappeared. From Stanvac's viewpoint, the project was 'crude oil driven'.

From the viewpoint of the several international chemical companies, the driving force was an opportunity to expand into the Australian markets, which would have been foreclosed to them if they had been pre-empted in the venture. The companies correctly assumed that after they had established the venture with their own management resources, they could train Australians to run the business. They also had confidence in the political and social stability in Australia. They may, however, have misjudged the industrial relations climate. In the event, the companies reasonably judged the potential business opportunity. Because of an early economic downturn in Australia, and partly because of rather optimistic market forecasts, the projects were unprofitable during their early years. Subsequently, they were modestly profitable, although certainly not a bonanza.

There have been changes over the years. The most notable of these were the withdrawal of CSR Chemicals Ltd. from the various joint companies and the transfer of the Union Carbide plant to Compol Pty. Ltd., a joint company between Exxon Chemical and Mobil Chemical. Major changes to products have been the addition of linear low density polyethylene to the Compel range, the cessation of production of ethylene dichloride, chlorine and caustic soda by Dow, who have added styrene butadiene dispersions, epoxy resins, propylene glycol, polyols and foam polystyrene production, Hoechst Australia's production of polypropylene and polyvinyl acetate dispersion manufacture and the addition of textile, leather and paper auxiliaries to the BASF Australia production range.

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - Altona Petrochemical Company Ltd; Altona Petrochemical Complex; B. F. Goodrich Chemical Ltd; B. F. Goodrich-CSRC; B.A.S.F. Australia Ltd; Badocol Pty Ltd; C.S.R. Chemicals Ltd; C.S.R.C-Dow; Compol Pty Ltd; Dow Chemicals (Australia) Ltd; Exxon; Goodyear; Hoescht Australia Ltd; Mobil; Union Carbide Australia Ltd

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 711 - 712, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher