Based in Perth, Coogee Chemicals is a diverse, Australia-wide chemical manufacturer and tank terminal operator, an area in which the company has experienced significant expansion in recent years. In addition to its successful chlor-alkali business, Coogee’s recent growth has been primarily based on the development of fuel terminals for numerous major fuel companies, including Viva (formerly Shell) and Caltex. The company is also involved in a variety of new ventures, including the construction of a new diesel terminal in Port Bonython, South Australia in partnership with the Mitsubishi Corporation, and the commissioning of a new $40 million chlor-alkali plant in Queensland. “We believe that it will place us in a good position to grow our business in the water treatment market in Queensland,” says Dr Grant Lukey, Coogee’s CEO. In the years to come, Grant feels that the company’s major priority will be taking the business to the next level, both in size and geography, as well as product mix. At a local level, the identification of niche opportunities will help to maximise the company’s skills, enabling Coogee to deliver projects at a faster rate than its counterparts. “That’s what we’ve done historically, and that’s certainly where we’re going to head moving forward,” says Dr Lukey, who also notes a number of opportunities abroad as well, any of which he feels will provide a significant boost to the growth of the business. “We have a strong sense of our culture and who we are, and our past successes serve as a basis from which to develop new opportunities.”
A diversified dangerous goods chemical manufacturer, Coogee Chemicals operates 5 major hazard facilities across Australia. “Our model encompasses a ‘cradle to the grave’ approach,” Grant says. “Equally important to the manufacturing of dangerous good is the storage, handling, safe transport, and delivery of those chemicals to those customers, and that sets us apart from our counterparts.” From a customer perspective, this presents Coogee as a one-stop shop, and guarantees the supply and quality of their products. From a product stewardship perspective, this approach provides Coogee with absolute control over its goods, ensuring their safe handling in accordance with the regulatory compliance requirements of every state that the company operates within. As well, Coogee has always worked alongside potential and existing customers in order to develop new methods to improve its systems and products, delivering additional benefits. One such example is the development of specialised xanthates, used to increase the metal recovery in floatation cells in mining circuits.
For Coogee, the concept of sustainability extends further than the improvement of the environment in the communities in which it operates. “It encompasses compliance, health and safety, innovation, human resource initiatives, accountability, security, and stakeholder engagement.” Explains Dr Lukey. “We view business sustainability broadly, not just a single aspect.” In addition to the development of a new titanium alloy powder pilot plant, the company has installed a range of solar cells for its Kwinana operations, providing a means to reduce its external electricity requirements, and, accordingly, emissions associated with its site. Coogee also works alongside numerous local community groups throughout Australia, and is a keen supporter of the LyriK Youth Incentive Program in Kwinana, an initiative established to recognise and reward young people for positive acts they do, and provide them with the skills and support necessary to get them to the next phase of their lives. “It’s a cultural issue for Coogee,” Grant says, “We believe to get a long-term, competitive advantage in a business such as the chemicals industry, one must maintain an entrepreneurial type of approach, stretch ahead, and look at new technologies, working them through and putting them into practice.”
The new diesel fuel terminal project currently underway in Port Bonython represents a significant milestone for Coogee, as it is the company’s first investment within South Australia. “We look forward to that terminal being operational by mid-2016,” says Dr Lukey, “and we will actively support Mitsubishi in the safe and efficient operation of the terminal to serve their customers.” By the end of 2015, Coogee expects to have commissioned its new chlor-alkali plant at its existing site in Brisbane, which will support the company’s sustainability initiatives due to its low emission, minimal effluent design, utilising best in class technology for the production of chlorine and caustic. “It allows for the retiring of some of the older plants that we have there, which are energy hungry,” says Grant, who also looks forward to the further development of a new titanium alloy powder plant in partnership with CSIRO. “We believe the technology has the power to transform the titanium industry globally,” he says. “We are at a very exciting stage of that project, where the results of the plant are looking very promising, and we’re producing not only commercially pure titanium powder, but also certain titanium alloy powders.” Coogee believes that such powders will have applications within the additive manufacturing, or 3d printing field, which could potentially lead to a considerable growth path for the business. Coogee has also spent a significant amount of time working towards the introduction of methanol-blended gasoline (GEM fuel) into the Australian market in conjunction with Methanex, the world’s largest producer and marketer of methanol. “In China, millions of tonnes of methanol is blended into the fuel market each year, and is used for transportation,” Dr Lukey says. “In the last few years we’ve done extensive tests on GEM fuels with cars on the road, as well as extensive test work in partnership with companies such as Orbital in Western Australia.” Grant points out Australia’s current status as a net exporter of natural gas, while it imports significant amounts of its liquid fuels for transportation. “Natural gas is used to make methanol,” he says. “In our minds, why are we exporting natural gas, and allowing someone else to convert it into fuel, when we can convert natural gas to methanol here, and help feed the energy market in Australia with methanol-blended fuel?”
The development of long-term relationships with suppliers, customers, partners, and other stakeholders has been an integral part of the Coogee’s success for many years. “We are a very small operator in the sector, but through our can-do attitude, and demonstrated ability to do what we say we will do, we have nurtured a reputation of integrity and genuine capability,” says Dr Lukey. “We believe that these are very important values; it’s all about that relationship.” One of Coogee’s most notable existing relationships is with Wesfarmers, through a very successful long-term joint venture in the AGR cyanide plant in Kwinana. The company has also established a major fuel terminal in Kwinana, where it hosts many of the major fuel companies currently operating in Australia. Coogee is an active member of a wide range of industry associations as well, including the Kwinana Industry Council and PACIA. “They play a pivotal role in the chemical industry” Grant explains, “they are an industry-wide voice to the government and community regarding the challenges it faces, now and into the future. We work with each of those associations at multiple levels to develop longer-term policy settings in conjunction with government, so that we can maintain a safe, competitive and valuable industry for the community and Australia for many years to come.“
One of the most significant issues facing the chemical industry is the availability and pricing of natural gas, both as a feedstock for chemical production, and as an energy source as well. Coogee’s own methanol manufacturing plant in Victoria is in itself a large consumer of natural gas within the state. “Australia has an abundance of natural gas, and in recent years, it has not been freely available for sale, and only offered on short term, highly priced contracts,” explains Dr Lukey. “That’s caused a significant change in the market, and presents a concern for an industry that relies on long term natural gas contracts at a competitive price. It could potentially lead to a premature closure of chemical plants, and the subsequent loss of the chemical sector from Australia’s economy.” Grant also identifies a much longer-term risk for the industry; the apparent shift away from mathematics and sciences at the secondary school level. “It’s a concern because we rely on the next generation of students coming through to take a career in chemistry and engineering, which can be very rewarding, with opportunities to work globally,” he says. “The chemicals industry cannot prosper and grow without that necessary human capital being available. We need to start tapping into the secondary school and university levels and get the next generation to understand what we do, so that they can take the industry forward.”
Grant Lukey has a background in both chemical engineering and law, and enjoys the stimulation that formal learning provides, while relishing the everyday learning opportunities found within the workplace. “I believe I’ve been very fortunate to have had many great mentors, through my entire life. I owe these people immense gratitude, because every single one of them has contributed to who I am today, both personally and professionally,” he says. “ I foresee many challenges and opportunities in the year ahead, but a key objective for me is to continue to work hard, steer Coogee to the next level of growth, and always make the most of every day.”