A FAMILY-OWNED County Durham chemical firm has refused to rule out further expansion after buying a US operator to keep pace with customer demand.

Thomas Swan and Co Limited has taken on the former Apollo Chemicals plant, in Alabama.

Bosses at Thomas Swan, headquartered in Consett, say the move will allow it to make increased batches of speciality chemicals and meet clients’ ever-growing desires.

The business is known for working on graphene, which experts say is an ultra-light yet overtly tough carbon material that can conduct electricity, add toughness to plastics and cut friction in lubricants.

Officials say its US endeavour will complement such work, by providing the company with space to carry out greater manufacturing processes that have the potential to increase sales.

Harry Swan, managing director, said: “This is a major step in the implementation of our global expansion strategy and will provide a valuable manufacturing hub for us.

“We expect the plant to support our continued recent growth in custom manufacturing by opening up the US market to us.”

The company’s agreement will include glass-lined acid resistant production and distillation facilities, which it says will provide scope to carry out a range of chemical processes, and Dr Tom Porter, custom manufacturing division business director, confirmed the move was the result of rising demand.

He also confirmed the company would assess the potential for further expansion going forward.

He added: “Existing customers have asked us to add a US manufacturing base, providing a strong business case for this acquisition.

“We will shortly start the process of fitting out the base to allow significant room for sales growth, with the site capable of large future expansions in addition to the current plans.”

The deal caps a positive few months for Thomas Swan, having earlier this year revealed a new graphene creation designed to improve industrial coatings.

It also finalised an agreement to represent the Robinson Brothers’ Robac Technology brand across the US and Canada, with the latter’s products known for providing rubber additives to help operators meet health, safety and environmental demands.

Founded in the 1920s when Tommy Swan set up mixing plants at Consett’s Crookhall works, Thomas Swan, in its infancy, was known for converting steel industry slag waste into road surfacing material.

However, when road builders changed from using tar as a binder to bitumen on roads, it created a surfactant, which became its first chemical product.

Its expertise now includes tyre and rubber additives, while it also supplies an active ingredient that goes into cleaning agent Dettol.