"We have a robust strategy for growth to build the HELM brand in Asia, which goes even further than just business."

KEW Hui Chin

MANAGING DIRECTOR AND PRESIDENT CHEMICALS ASIA, HELM ASIA

October 06, 2023

Since the recent change of leadership, can you outline some developments at HELM in Asia?

We restructured our organization globally in 2021, such that our chemicals business now operates as four Entrepreneurial Units (“EUs”). There are 3 regional EUs, namely Asia, Americas, Europe, and a global Glycols EU. This structure allows us to operate more autonomously and with greater agility.

In summary, we have a two-pronged approach. Firstly, growing local distribution and marketing in terms of product portfolio and geography, and secondly, maintaining regional and global reach. Underpinning our two-pronged approach is our Grow Asia Strategy, which is a sector/customer-backed approach, focusing on products in the care chemicals, construction, electronics, and automotive sectors.

What is the strategy behind your joint venture with South Pacific Chemical Industries Group (“SPCI”)?

This joint venture enables HELM to expand our product portfolio into inorganic chemicals in SEA. This includes long-term partnerships with a range of companies, for example, ExxonMobil on Jurong Island. It also enables HELM to build an integrated sulfur value chain and a platform that HELM can build on and replicate in other parts of Asia.

What are some of the recent trends and challenges you have noticed in the Asian chemical industry?

The chemical industry is cyclical and we are currently in a “trough” of the cycle. We are faced with a triple whammy of oversupply in the industry, slower-than-expected growth in demand, and high energy costs. Industry experts do not expect a full recovery until the second half of 2024. Energy costs are still high. Supply chain costs remain high, and supply chain disruptions are still present despite having declined from pandemic-era peaks. This presents opportunities for HELM, where we can help our partners access new/alternative markets, locally, regionally, and globally.

What is HELM’s approach to sustainability and bio-based chemicals?

Sustainability is a key priority of ours, and we will soon reveal a holistic definition of success in HELM. HELM made the following commitments in the sustainability space. Firstly, a long-term exclusive offtake agreement with Black Bear Carbon, where HELM has marketing rights to recycled carbon black from the rubber fraction of old tires.

We invested in Trillium, to develop technology to produce sustainable Acrylonitrile. We are working towards commercialization of the technology, with HELM holding strategic rights in the supply chain and sales/marketing of the sustainable Acrylonitrile.

QIRA, our joint venture with Cargill, is set to produce bio-1,4 Butanediol, the main component to be used in applications such as Spandex. This is used in apparel but also specialty polymers like Thermoplastic Polyurethane and Polybutylene Terephthalate which are widely applied in automotive and electronics markets.

We joined forces with Leverton Lithium to scale up the manufacturing of battery-grade lithium battery recycling.

Finally, we entered a memorandum of Understanding with an Asian producer for the supply of Bio-Vinyl Acetate Monomer.

We are also working towards publishing our ESG report ahead of the 2025 regulation timeframe in Europe, as well as setting up our in-house product carbon footprint tool to determine our CO2 intensity and then possibly offer our expertise to our partners.

Has it been difficult for the Singaporean chemical industry to attract young talent?

Young talents are more drawn toward tech, media, and finance but the reality is that chemical products are a big part of our lives. Looking around in this room, almost every item here was manufactured - at least in part - using chemicals, including the clothes we are wearing. This is why chemical companies, including HELM, need to be creative and pivot away from fossil fuels and find a way of reducing our energy consumption, finding bio and circular solutions.  It is important for us to properly articulate what the chemicals industry is about, that chemicals can be part of sustainability solutions, for example, light-weighting of vehicles, and chemicals used for insulation of homes, so that less energy is required.

What is the current state of the regulatory environment in Singapore around ESG?

Singapore, unlike many other Asian countries, has implemented a carbon tax. The tax increases the cost of manufacturing in Singapore. However, we should not view the carbon tax as a punitive measure, but rather as a mechanism to encourage companies to be more energy efficient and fast-track their sustainability goals.

Do you have any final comments?

Asia is a key growth area for HELM. We have a robust strategy for growth to build the HELM brand in Asia, which goes even further than just business. HELM is investing broadly in sports, supporting sports like table tennis and badminton, signing sponsorships of Timo Boll (table tennis) and Viktor Axelsen (badminton), and underlining HELM’s commitment to Asia.

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