September 2009



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This week has seen an unusual amount of interest in the opioid bowel disorder (OBD) arena, with AstraZeneca signing a deal with Nektar that could be worth up to $1.5 billion (£939 million), while Adolor has acquired the rights to an OBD programme from Eli Lilly. And for all those UK readers who will be using the A123 to drive between Ilford and Barking in Greater London tonight, well, you may be surprised to know that its namesake, a US-based lithium-ion battery maker, has smashed analysts’ expectations by raising $380 million during its initial public offering (IPO) on the NASDAQ stock market.

PHARMACEUTICALS

AZ and Adolor to ease the discomfort of opioid use

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Between 40 and 90 per cent of patients taking opioids such as morphine for chronic pain management suffer from opioid bowel dysfunction (OBD), which is often described as constipation. And surprisingly there’s been a lot of movement in the field this week with both Adolor and AstraZeneca (AZ) gaining rights to experimental drugs targeting the problem.

AZ is to pay US biopharma firm Nektar up to $1.5 billion for the rights to two experimental OBD drugs, NKTR-118 and NKTR-119. NKTR-118 has completed a Phase II trial while NKTR-119 is in early stage development and aims to combine NKTR-118 with selected opioids with the goal of treating chronic pain without causing constipation.

‘NKTR-118 is an important late stage programme that has the potential to address a real need for patients,’ said David Brennan, AZ’s chief executive. ‘We are excited about this agreement with Nektar, as it provides us the opportunity to apply our deep knowledge and expertise in neuroscience, oncology and gastrointestinal areas of medicine to create real value for patients. This is a good example of using externalisation to enrich the company’s late-stage pipeline.’

Meanwhile, Adolor has acquitred the exclusive worldwide rights to Eli Lilly’s opioid receptor agonist OpRA III in a deal worth up to $72 million. The drug has successfully completed two Phase I studies and Adolor aims to take the drug back to the clinic in early 2010.

‘OpRA III has a unique profile with the potential to address the gastrointestinal disorders associated with the use of opioid analgesics,’ said Michael Dougherty, Adolor’s chief executive. ‘Adolor has a wealth of experience in this therapeutic area and the addition of OpRA III to our OBD portfolio provides us with another clinical-stage compound with which we can potentially address a large and underserved market.’

The move comes some four months after Adolor made some 28 per cent of its workforce (45 workers) redundant.

Warner Chilcott returns psoriasis rights to help pay for P&G pharmaceuticals

Warner Chillcott has returned the rights to three topical psoriasis treatments to Leo Pharma in exchange for $1 billion, which it will use to fund its acquisition of Proctor & Gamble’s (P&G’s) pharmaceutical division. The deal includes the rights to Taclonex, Taclonex Scalp and Dovonex as well as rights to all products in Leo Pharma’s pipeline.

‘This transaction allows Warner Chilcott to concentrate on new strategic initiatives, including the acquisition and integration of the Proctor & Gamble Pharmaceuticals business and enables LEO Pharma to expand beyond research and development and into the commercialization of products in the United States,’ said Warner Chilcott’s chief executive Roger Boissonneault.

Pfizer and Wyeth to sell off some animal health assets

In order to comply with monopolies regulators, Pfizer and Wyeth are selling off some of their animal health assets to German rival Boehringer Ingelheim. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Pfizer has said those products being divested account for less than 10 per cent of the combined company’s animal health product sales, which amounted to $3.91 billion last year.

GSK and Novartis get swine flu vax thumb up

The European Medicines Agency (EMEA) has recommended to the European Commission that swine flu (influenza A H1N1) vaccines developed by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Novartis should be given marketing approval. The committee is currently recommending a two-dose vaccination schedule, at an interval of three weeks for adults for both Novartis’ Focetria and GSK’s Pandemrix.

Authorisation was given using a ‘mock up’ approach that allows vaccine development and authorisation in advance of a pandemic, based on information generated with a different virus strain that could have caused a pandemic – in this case H5N1. The strain was then switched for the current H1N1 strain with further smaller scale trials on around 6000 people.

‘Decades of experience with seasonal influenza vaccines indicate that insertion of a new strain in a vaccine should not substantially affect the safety or level of protection offered,’ said the EMEA in a statement.

More woe for Apotex

Following the import ban imposed on Apotex by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Canadian generics manufacturer has been dealt another blow and recalled selected lots of three health products from the Canadian market.

The recall follows safety concerns highlighted during Health Canada’s on-going inspections of Apotex manufacturing facilities in the Greater Toronto Area.

Biogen goes hostile in bid for Facet

After its initial approach to buy for Facet was knocked back, Biogen Idec has decided to launch a hostile takeover bid for the company, offering $14.50 per share – a 64 per cent premium over the closing share price of Facet’s common stock on 3 September. The companies are jointly developing two drugs, daclizumab for multiple sclerosis and colocoximab for solid tumours.

Q Chip to develop biosimilars

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Cardiff, Wales-based encapsulation expert Q Chip is developing a range of sustained-release biosimilars using its Q-Sphera bioencapsulation technology. The company will initially focus on developing longer-lasting formulations of the anticancer drug leuprolide and the acromegaly drug ocreotide.

The Q-Sphera microspheres are made from bioresorbable polymers and with a diameter of 80 microns can be injected using a 27-29 gauge needle.

INDUSTRY

A123 goes public

Lithium ion battery maker A123 has got off to a great start as a public company, selling 3 million more shares than expected at nearly $5 more per share during its initial flotation on the NASDAQ stock market. The company sold 28 million shares of common stock at $13.50 per share, beating predictions that they would sell for between $8 and $9.50.

The cash boost follows a $250 million grant from the US Department of Energy to build advanced battery production facilities in the US.

The company has a history of making losses and is uncertain about its ability to make a profit, yet despite these failings, increasing awareness of the climate change issues has left investors keen to gamble on the clean technology company.

While the company posted a loss of $40.7 million in the first half of 2009 (due in part to research and development expenses) it has managed to form alliances with General Electric, BMW, Chrysler and General Motors.

Air Liquide to build €10 million production unit

Air Liquide has announced that it will invest €10 million (£9.2 million) to build a dedicated nitrogen production plant in Germany’s Solar Valley in Thalheim. Due to be started in 2010, the plant will produce more than 38 million tonnes per year of nitrogen and supply photovoltaic experts Calyxo, Sunfilm and Q-Cells.

US court reopens emissions case against electric companies

The US Appeals court has reinstated a multistate lawsuit against five large power companies, which run fossil fueled power stations, that was dismissed by the district court four years ago. The states are claiming that the carbon dioxide emissions from the companies’ plants are creating a public nuisance of global warming.

New York City and eight US states are collectively suing the companies – which includes American Electric Power – to try and force them to cap and then reduce their carbon dioxide emissions.

Two more Sasol plant employees die

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Two employees from petrochemical giant Sasol’s plant in Secunda, South Africa, died last week after breathing in toxic gases while working. The plant already had a chequered safety history; with one worker death earlier this year, two in 2005 and 10 in 2004.

Sugar dust explosion blamed on shoddy equipment and maintenance

The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has issued its final report on the cause of the sugar dust explosion at the Imperial Sugar refinery in Georgia, US, on 7 February 2008, that killed six workers and injured dozens more. The CSB concluded that the explosion was triggered by the ongoing release of combustible sugar dust, and pointed the finger of blame at inadequate equipment design, maintenance and housekeeping.

DSM helps break solar cell efficiency record

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Dutch materials company DSM has said its KhepriCoat anti-reflective coating system has helped achieve the highest energy conversion efficiency of a full-sized solar module. The module, designed by the Energy research Centre in the Netherlands, achieved a conversion efficiency of 16.4 per cent, breaking the previous record of 15.5 per cent by 0.9 per cent.

The KhepriCoat has been shown to increase light transmission through glass by up to 4 per cent – leading to a transmission rate of around 96 per cent for wavelengths between 400nm and 1200nm.

Matt Wilkinson and Nina Notman

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Super-heavy elements are like English buses, it seems – you wait around for ages and then two come along at once.

Not only have we got the naming of element 112 to ponder, but a team from Berkeley have managed to confirm the creation of element 114 in some experiments by a Russian group over 10 years ago, popping up another stepping stone towards the fabled ‘island of stability’ at which point superheavy atoms might have lifetimes of hours, days or even millions of years (depending on your level of optimism).

It turns out that element 114 decays by emitting an alpha particle (2 protons and 2 neutrons) to make element 112, which literally makes copernicium the ‘daughter’ of the new element 114! (more…)

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You know that depressing feeling that whenever you’re in a hurry and waiting for the bus, its always running late, and that excitement you feel as two turn up at once? Well those working in the HIV vaccine arena must have a similar feeling, as after years of depressing failures two exciting results have been published within the last month.

While the first result discussed the discovery of two broadly neutralising antibodies that block a large number of HIV strains from entering T-cells, the second result is perhaps even more surprising as it involves the results of a clinical trial of a combination of two vaccines that had both been canned by their developers.

The RV144 trial showed that a combination of Sanofi-Pasteur’s Alvac and VaxGen’s AidsVAX B/E cut the risk of HIV infection by 31 per cent. Alvac consists of a disabled canarypox virus modified to carry synthetic versions of three HIV genes into the body, and was designed to prime the immune system to release T-cells that hunt down and kill infected cells. AidsVax was designed to produce neutralising antibodies that destroy HIV before it infects cells, and contains the gp120 protein that the virus uses to enter cells.

Both vaccines had failed in trials where they were tested separately, and both developers had given up on them. But when combined they seem to work synergistically to cut the risk of infection.

While the positive reduction has been met with great excitement, experts have warned that the result is merely a proof of principle and that further studies will be needed to validate the results.

Full analysis of the trail, which was conducted on over 16,000 Thai volunteers aged between 18 and 30 and deemed to be of moderate risk of infection, is still being conducted. But the fact that of the 8,197 given the drugs 51 became infected compared to 74 of the 8,197 that were given a placebo bodes well for the future development of so-called ‘prime-boost’ vaccines.

Matt Wilkinson

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In this week’s Chemistry in its elementpodcast, Eric Scerri, from UCLA in the US, talks about the expensive element used to make space vehicles

 

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The recent swine flu outbreak has highlighted the need for quicker ways to identify flu strains. Now scientists in Australia have used high resolution mass spectrometry to rapidly and easily characterise the virus.

Kevin Downard, at the University of Sydney, and colleagues used the technique to measure the mass of peptides found in flu viruses that had been broken down (digested) by enzymes. Because each digested virus strain has a unique selection of peptides, Downward could identify (type) the strain from its accurate mass signature.

Downard says it is the most rapid and direct surveillance method to characterise the influenza virus with fine molecular detail. Read the full paper in Analyst at http://www.rsc.org/publishing/journals/AN/article.asp?doi=B912234F

Joanne Thomson

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Its been a busy week, with a slew of merger and acquisition activity in the instrumentation market, and to top it off our intrepid business editor has only just returned from climbing Kilimanjaro to find a pile of news bigger than Kili’s summit of 5895m sat atop his desk…

PHARMACEUTICALS

Eli Lilly shake up

5500 Eli Lilly employees are to be the latest casualties in the pharma sector as the US drugmaker announced major restructuring plans that will see nearly 14 per cent of its workforce axed. The company will be reorganised into five business units covering oncology, diabetes, emerging markets, established markets and animal health.

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The revamp, designed to reduce costs by $1.1 billion (£670 million) by 2011, is in anticipation of the expiry of a series of patents covering the company’s products – beginning with the loss of protection for its blockbuster antipsychotic Zyprexa, in 2011.

‘These changes will challenge us and require new ways of thinking and acting,’ said John Lechleiter, Lilly’s chief executive. ‘Under this new operating model, Lilly has the opportunity not only to better navigate this uncertain, challenging time, but to emerge with renewed strength and focus.’

Elan’s J&J deal rejigged

Irish biopharma firm Elan Pharma has had to rejig its deal to sell a stake in the firm to Johnson & Johnson (J&J) after a US district court identified an ‘unintended breach of its Tsyabri agreement with Biodgen Idec’.

The original $1.5 billion deal would have landed J&J an 18.4 per cent stake in Elan, a majority position in its Alzheimer’s portfolio and an option to buy Biogen’s share of its Tsyabri collaboration. However, the option to buy into the Tsyabri collaboration was in breach of its earlier contract with Biogen, so Elan had to scrap that part of the deal – with J&J knocking $100 million off the price of the equity investment.

BMS gets out of Asia

Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) has shed another ‘non-core asset’ and sold off its Indonesian subsidiary and the rights to various over-the-counter (OTC) products in the Asia-Pacific region to Japan’s Taisho Pharmaceutical for $310 million.

This seventh divestiture by BMS appears out of kilter with the majority of pharmaceutical companies that are trying to increase their presence in the OTC and generics marketplaces as well as increasing their geographic reach.

According to Dieter Weinand, president, intercontinental, Bristol-Myers Squibb, ‘this planned divestiture is a part of Bristol-Myers Squibb’s strategic transformation into a more focused next-generation BioPharma company that develops and commercialises products that address serious unmet medical needs.’

‘The company is looking closely at its geographic and manufacturing footprint to align more closely to the scale and size of a BioPharma company.’

Bayer names Thermo’s Dekkers as next CEO

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Breaking the tradition of promoting chief executives from within company ranks, Bayer has announced that Thermo Fisher Scientific’s Marijn Dekkers will take over from Werner Wenning as chief executive of Bayer as of October 2010. In the meantime, he will join the company as head of Bayer Healthcare.

Dekkers’s record as a dealmaker at Thermo Fisher Scientific has led many analysts to speculate that the move may herald the breakup of the German pharmaceutical and chemicals conglomerate to enable it to focus on developing medicines.

Marc Casper, Thermo’s chief operating officer, has been named as Dekkers’s replacement at the instrument and laboratory reagent company. Casper took over the reigns as chief operating officer in May 2008 and spoke to Chemistry World earlier this year.

LABORATORY

World’s largest mass spec buisiness sold

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Life Technologies and MDS have decided to sell their Applied Biosystems SCIEX mass spectrometry joint venture to Danaher Corporation for $1.1 billion. Under the agreement Danaher will purchase and combine both the commercial and marketing operations of the business, currently handled by Life Technologies, and the research, development and marketing functions which have been handled by MDS.

While Life Technologies is only selling off its share of the mass spectrometry business (for $450 million), MDS is selling its entire MDS Analytical Technologies business for $650 million. MDS has also announced its intention to sell off its MDS Pharma Services business to leave it focused solely on its medical isotope business MDS Nordion.

Dionex buys ESA Life Sciences’ HPLC assets

Chromatography expert Dionex has agreed to buy the the ESA Life Science tools business unit from Magellan Bioscience. The deal will add three HPLC detector families to Dionex’s HPLC offering, the Corona universal charged aerosol detector (CAD), as well as the CoulArray and Coulochem electrochemical detectors.

While financial details of the deal were not disclosed, Dionex is anticipating the transaction will generate additional revenue of $12 – $15 million a year.

PerkinElmer buys GE Healthcare’s catalogue radiochemicals

Following the sale of GE Healthcare’s custom radiolabelling services to Quotient Bioscience, the US industry giant has now agreed to sell its catalogue radiochemicals offering to PerkinElmer.

According to PerkinElmer, the deal will enable it to provide the largest selection of radiolabelled compounds to the global scientific community.

‘This asset purchase reinforces PerkinElmer’s continued position as the leading company in HTS radiochemicals and related instruments, as we remain committed to supporting critical radiochemicals-based research,’ said Richard Eglen, president of biodiscovery at PerkinElmer.

Corning buys Axygen BioScience

US glass expert Corning has bought Axygen BioScience for an undisclosed amount to bolster its presence in the laboratory equipment market. The deal will add a range of pipettes, pipette tips, high throughput screening products, centrifuges and incubators to Corning’s laboratory product offering.

‘Axygen’s product portfolio and established distribution network will significantly strengthen Corning’s life sciences platform and are critical components to our long-term growth strategy for this business,’ said Peter Volanakis, Corning’s chief operating officer. ‘We believe this highly strategic acquisition offers synergies that will allow us to grow our life sciences business to more than $500 million in revenue by 2011.’

INDUSTRY

CSB calls for better education

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The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has called for chemical engineering curricula in the US to include reactive hazard recognition and management following its investigation into the December 2007 explosion at T2 Laboratories, in Jacksonville, US.

The CSB found that the explosion was caused by a runaway chemical reaction that ‘likely resulted from an inadequate reactor cooling system’. The investigators concluded that T2 did not recognise all of the hazards involved in making a gasoline additive. As the two owners of T2 had undergraduate degrees in chemistry and chemical engineering, the CSB called for ‘improving the education of chemical engineering students on reactive chemical hazards’.

Following the blast four T2 employees were killed and a further four injured, while 28 employees of nearby business were injured when building walls and windows blew in.

‘This is one of the largest reactive chemical accidents the CSB has investigated,” said CSB chairman John Bresland. ‘We hope our findings once again call attention to the need for companies to be aware of how to control reactive chemical hazards.’

LyondellBasell to offer stock to exit bankruptcy

LyondellBasell is planning to become a public company and float itself on the stock market in its bid to exit bankruptcy before the end of the year, according to documents filed with a US bankruptcy court. The company was forced to seek bankruptcy protection in January due to the credit crisis and the sharp downturn in demand for chemicals leaving the company unable to finance the debts incurred from its leveraged buyout of Lyondell chemical in 2007.

Sasol sees profits fall as sales rise

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Despite seeing its turnover for the year increase 6 per cent to Rand137 billion (£11 billion) Sasol saw its operating profits fell 26 per cent to Rand24 billion.

‘Our deleveraged balance sheet and strong cash flows continue to serve the group well in weathering the storm and in funding our prioritised growth programme in tough credit markets,’ said Pat Davies, chief executive of Sasol. ‘The global economic recession created opportunities for us to examine all our operations.’

The company was hit with fines for anticompetitive behaviour of Rand3.9 billion, with Davies saying, ‘we have acted swiftly to improve competition law compliance and will have completed our comprehensive group-wide review by December 2009.’

Arkema to build CNT plant

Arkema is building a 400 tonne per year carbon nanotube (CNT) pilot production plant in Mont, France. The plant is scheduled to start up in 2011 and will be the only CNT plant to use an entirely biologically sourced raw material – bioethanol.

The plant will use a continuous catalytic chemical vapour deposition process to grow CNTs on iron particles that control the characteristics and growth of the CNTs.

ENERGY

GE blowing in the wind

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GE has bought Norwegian off-shore wind-power expert ScanWind to boost its position in the wind-power arena. According to Victor Abate, vice president of Renewable Energy for GE Energy, ‘the acquisition of ScanWind is an important step in our strategy to place GE in a strong position in the growing offshore wind segment.’

Showa Shell spends big on solar

Japan’s Showa Shell is investing $1.1billion to build its third  copper-indium-selenium (CIS) thin film photovoltaic cell plant which will boost its production capacity by a factor of ten to 1 gigawatt.

The company is predicting rapid growth in the market for solar cells due to subsidy programmes for residential photovoltaic systems in Japan and the Green New Deal Policy in the US.

Matt Wilkinson

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In this week’s Chemistry in its element podcast, science writer Brian Clegg explains why he views lanthanum as a successful movie bit part player – someone who never gets the lead role but appears in film after film

 

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shhhhhhhh

Are you one of those people who merrily works listening to music, simultaneously singing along as you tap on a keyboard or run experiments? Or is it quiet you crave – uninterrupted silence so you can concentrate on the task in hand?

If the latter’s more your thing, perhaps you should think about a move to the University of Bristol, where the ‘quietest’ building in the world has opened its doors. (more…)

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This week sees Allergan priming for expansion of the use of Botox to include treatment of migraine; Apotex hit with an import ban for its generic drugs by the FDA; and a Toyota Prius powered by algal fuel setting out on a road-trip across the US.

PHARMACEUTICALS

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Botox migraine trial shows promising results

Results from a phase III trial of Allergan’s botulinum toxin treatment, Botox – better known for its use in celebrity cosmetic treatments – could be an effective treatment for chronic migraine. According to results presented at the International Headache Congress in Philadelphia, the trial is aimed at patients suffering more than 15 days of headaches per month, and showed a significant reduction in the number of ‘headache days’, although interestingly enough no significant decrease in the number of ‘headache episodes’.

 

Apotex hit with import ban

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Canadian firm Apotex has become the latest generics manufacturer to fall short of US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards of Current Good Manufacturing Practice (CGMP), following on from problems at India’s Ranbaxy (See this Chemistry World story). On 25 June, the FDA issued a warning letter, detailing unresolved issues following an inspection of two of Apotex’s plants in Toronto last December, and the FDA has now banned products manufactured at the facilities from entering the US.

 

GSK urged to join HIV patent pool

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15 activist organisations including Médecins sans Frontières have called on Pharma giant GSK to release its HIV drug patents to Unitaid to allow cheap generics to be manufactured and distributed in developing countries. In a letter to The Guardian, Chris Strutt – GSK’s Senior vice-president, government affairs, public policy and patient advocacy – said that GSK was already in talks with Unitaid, and that the company had ‘not ruled out the possibility of participating in the pool, but [we] have yet to see any real proposal that provides benefits beyond GSK’s existing approach.’

GSK Chief executive, Andrew Witty, has previously outlined the company’s efforts to support treatment of Aids in Africa, and has participated in patent pools for other neglected illnesses.

 

Sepracor shareholders say ‘no’ to Dainippon

Following last week’s announcement of a $2.6 billion (£1.6 billion) takeover by Japanese drugmaker Dainippon Sumimoto, shareholders of US speciality pharma company Sepracor have sued the company, saying that Sepracor’s directors had undervalued the company and the terms of the deal were detrimental to shareholders’ interests.

 

INDUSTRY

Algae-fuelled Toyota Prius hits the road in US but Germany backs Hydrogen

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US-based Sapphire energy have joined a caravan of ‘green’ vehicles on a ten day tour of the US to promote green fuels. Their car – a standard Toyota Prius – will be fuelled on a mixture containing algal-derived petrol refined from Sapphire’s ‘green crude’ algal oil. The initiative is led by the Veggie van organisation and will be promoting the launch of ‘Fuel’ a documentary movie about fossil fuels and the available alternatives.

Meanwhile, the German minister for transport, Wolfgang Tiefensee, has signed a memorandum of understanding with industry consortium H2 Mobility to establish a hydrogen fuel network across Germany by 2015. The consortium includes carmaker Daimler and oil giants Shell and Total. The first phase of the project involves a feasibility study evaluating various options for rolling out a network of hydrogen fuelling stations across the country.

Germany is already trialling hydrogen filling stations on small scale around Berlin through the work of the Clean energy partnership, which includes many of the same companies.

 

Plant closures in US, Australia and Germany

The recession continues to affect the industry, with Huntsman, Dow chemical and BASF announcing plant closures this week.
Huntsman and Dow are both closing down styrene manufacturing facilities: the Huntsman plant in West Footscray, Australia, which represents the company’s last remaining commodity polymer plant, will close by the end of the year, with the associated polystyrene plants scheduled to follow early in 2010; Dow’s styrene monomer and ethylbenzene units at Freeport, Texas, are being shut down as part of ongoing restructuring at Dow.

German chemicals giant BASF will permanently close its nylon (polyamide-6) plant in Rudolstadt, concentrating production at its larger, integrated manufacturing (Verbund) sites in Antwerp and Ludwigshafen. The closure will involve the loss of 58 jobs at the Rudolstadt site and related restructuring at Ludwigshafen means a further 19 job losses.
Phillip Broadwith

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Yesterday I blogged about pine cones and wild wheat providing the idea behind a new humidity sensitive material, but this was just one of many interesting nature-inspired materials being discussed at the Euromat 2009 conference this week. On Tuesday I spent most of the day in sessions on biomimetics, and I thought I’d share some titbits with you.

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First up is an old favourite of mine – spider silk. There is a huge amount of interest in spider silk due to its incredible strength, and ideally we’d like to use it for applications like bullet proof vests. But unlike silk worms, spiders can’t be farmed. They eat each other you see! So instead scientists have been trying to unravel the mystery behind the materials strength and work out how make it synthetically. John Hardy, a post doc in Thomas Scheibel’s group at University of Bayreuth in Germany, gave us a run down of what they have found out so far and their attempts at fabrication. If you want to learn more, Angewandte Chemie International Edition subscribers can read a recent review by Scheibel. (more…)

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