HOUSTON (ICIS)--Huntsman was able to quickly switch production at a US plant to hand sanitizers by converting pilot equipment at the site, the CEO said on Tuesday.
Hand sanitizer is in high demand because of the coronavirus (Covid-19).
Making the sanitizer is relatively simple. The process mostly involves blending the chemicals at the right proportion.
Huntsman could do this with the pilot equipment at its plant in McIntosh, Alabama, said Peter Huntsman, CEO. He made his comments during an interview with ICIS.
That plant makes aerospace-grade adhesives used in carbon-fibre materials, he said. Because Huntsman is relying on pilot equipment to produce the sanitizers, the plant can continue to make the adhesives for its aerospace customers.
The pilot equipment turned out to be ideal because it was at the right scale to produce the sanitizer, Huntsman said.
The Alabama plant produced 5 tonnes in a day, and it can produce substantially more if it has enough raw materials, he said.
The main challenges in switching over production was getting regulatory approval and securing isopropanol (IPA), which makes up 70-75% of hand sanitizer, Huntsman said.
LyondellBasell stepped in and donated isopropanol needed for the first batch, Huntsman said.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sped up the regulatory process so Huntsman could start making hand sanitizers as soon as possible.
The approval process normally takes months. The FDA completed it within weeks, Huntsman said. "They really came through on this."
Huntsman went through a similar approval process when it began producing hand sanitizer at its plant in Monthey, Switzerland.
Huntsman plans to produce 50 tonnes at Monthey, and it is donating the hand sanitizer to hospitals and pharmacies.
Monthey is a sister plant to the one in Alabama, and it also produces raw materials for the aerospace industry.
The initial output from the Alabama plant will be donated to the Huntsman Cancer Institute and University of Utah Health Sciences, Huntsman said. The company intends to make the sanitizer available to other medical centres.
Any additional hand sanitizer could be donated or provided at cost. "I would not want to see our company in a position where we are making money off of hand sanitizers," Huntsman said.
Interview article by Al Greenwood
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