December 04, 2014
Japan competes on the value it adds to raw and intermediate materials. The volumes of imported chemicals are increasing and the need for their safe transport and storage has never been greater. Tank containers made of nickel-containing stainless steel in a range of sizes are providing solutions for a growing number of Japanese chemical companies.
A chemical industry in transition
The cost of labour and overall rising production costs in many countries have made it unprofitable to produce basic commodity chemicals. For those reasons, Japan’s chemical industry is entering a long term transition and a new era as production of basic commodity chemicals is moving offshore to lower cost countries. On the other hand, imports from Asian and Middle Eastern producers of commodity chemicals are growing to feed the Japanese production of high value-added chemicals.
Moving chemicals safely
Tank containers made of stainless steel, available in various sizes, are facilitating the safe movement of chemicals. In addition to so-called ISO tanks which are common the world over, smaller Intermediate Bulk Carrier (IBC) tanks are used for carrying low hazard cargos. The trade association @tco estimates that there are between 376,000 and 416,000 tanks of various sizes in service worldwide.
And these containers are ideally suited to serving the particular needs of the Japanese market. “It’s very costly to produce chemicals in Japan, so domestic chemical manufacturers are going abroad to produce commodity chemicals elsewhere in Asia to reduce costs,” explained Taiji Tano, Director and General Manager of Japan Dangerous Goods Container Association. It develops the tank container market and industry in Japan and represents the industry in consultations with the government over dangerous goods transport, storage regulations and other issues.
Although ISO-tanks are becoming more common for transporting chemicals in Japan, route planning is important as not all customers’ premises can receive ISO-tank deliveries. Often factories in Japan using chemicals in their manufacturing processes are located in areas where access is restricted by narrow streets, tight road bends and other hazards which limit the size of vehicles that can deliver to these premises.
“Many delivery yards are not big enough for ISO-tank trucks to enter or the customer’s storage tanks are not large enough to receive ISO-tank deliveries,” explained a Tokyo-based logistics manager of one leading American company that regularly ships chemicals to clients in Japan.
“In some areas the roads are not wide enough for ISO-tanks to pass. Also, for safe movement we need to fill up the ISO-tank to reduce air contact: partial loads are less safe or could degrade the quality of the material being transported. In addition, it may be that some roads cannot support the ISO-tank weight or there is an obstacle with the ISO-tank height.” For these reasons some companies use smaller portable tanks.
Meanwhile, ISO-tanks are providing a new chemical storage solution for a growing number of companies.
Rented or leased chemical terminal storage capacity is limited in many parts of Japan due to a shortage of suitable land for new tank storage facilities to be built. For companies without sufficient space to build their own permanent storage tank or who have been refused planning permission, leasing ISO-tanks or smaller tank containers to store chemicals in their factory yard is proving to be a popular practical choice for many. These companies may have been supplied with chemicals in for example 200 litre metal drums, but recently have started to import their chemical needs in bulk.
“For the next few years demand for storage will be growing as chemical imports grow, but no new storage capacity is planned, so more ISO-tanks will be used for chemical storage,” said Taiji Tano.
For both transport and storage, nickel-containing stainless steels will be helping the Japanese chemicals industry to flourish as it supplies the world with complex value-added chemicals for modern society.