The conclusion of the Versalis deal is near. Claudio De Scalzi, Ceo of Eni, told the trade unions the company will decide whether to sell 70% of its chemical division to the US fund SK Capital in late May, early June.
The three main Italian trade unions in the chemical sector have reaffirmed the Ceo of the Italian oil giant their clear opposition to this possibility and asked to seek alternatives; one of these would be the CDP (Cassa Depositi e Prestiti), which is is an Italian bank founded in 1850 and constituted in its current form as a joint-stock company on 12 December 2003: 80.1% of the share capital is owned by the Italian Ministry of Economy and Finance, the 18.4% is held by various banking foundations, while the remaining 1.5% in treasury shares.
The unions fear that the US fund is not able to guarantee the important investments to be made in the chemistry in the coming years. Descalzi said a series of guarantees and pre-conditions put in place made a sale more difficult. These included keeping Versalis whole for five years, not cutting the workforce for three, and keeping the company in Italy. Eni has spent time and money turning around Versalis by refocusing the business on speciality and green products and promoting its international development. Since 2000, the division has consumed 5.8 billion euros in cash, recorded net operating losses of more than 3 billion euros and staff numbers have dropped to 4,000 from 14,000, Eni said.
In late January, Barry Siadat, founder and managing director of SK Capital said the fund wants to continue operating Versalis as an Italian company under its existing management and insisted there were no plans to shutter any production facilities or lay off any staff. In its move away from petrochemicals, Versalis is today one of the main player of Italian bioeconomy. Together with Novamont and Genomatica established a technology joint venture for bio-based butadiene. The three companies are working together to develop a complete ”end-to-end’ process for the production of butadiene from non-food biomass. The resulting process will be licensed across Europe, Asia and Africa by the newly-created joint venture.
In Porto Torres (Sardinia), Versalis set up together with Novamont the 50/50 Joint Venture Matrìca, which, with its innovative and market-driven approach, offers a valuable opportunity for fostering competitiveness of the European chemical industry. Starting from agriculture, with advantages along the whole value chain for the complete exploitation of the biomass, bio-based chemistry is the best testing ground for the so-called “circular economy”, sparking sustainable solutions and resilient growth”. Matrìca today has a Research Centre with 7 pilot plants and a world-scale bio-monomer unit up and running from June 2014, converting vegetable oils into monomers and intermediates (such as azelaic acid and pelargonic acid), the building blocks from downstream processes of more complex bio-products, such as bioplastics.
In Porto Marghera (close to Venice), Versalis is developing new initiatives to strengthen its product portfolio, including the development of a green chemistry project, and to optimise exposure to commodities products. The Porto Marghera site is in a strategic location, which benefits from proximity to markets in Northern Europe and connections with other Versalis sites including Mantova, Ferrara and Ravenna, guaranteeing supply of raw material.