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Chemical Value Chain of the Future Innovating The Science Behind Sustainability

Editor: Gabriele Ilg

At Achema, Prof. Walter Leitner of the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Energy Conversion and Markus Steilemann, CEO of Covestro, gave a plenary lecture, Sustainable Chemical Value Chains: New Perspectives for Sector Coupling.

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Walter Leitner of the Max-Planck-Institute and Covestro CEO Markus Steileman gave a plenary lecture.
Walter Leitner of the Max-Planck-Institute and Covestro CEO Markus Steileman gave a plenary lecture.
(Source: Bailey/CHEMICAL ENGINEERING)

The core message of the lecture stressed the importance of collaboration in re-shaping traditional chemical value chains into more sustainable models. “Different industrial sectors are undergoing major transitions now. It opens up new possibilities if the sectors are coupled,” said Leitner.

“Capitalizing on these opportunities requires a great deal of fundamental knowledge and technological progress, so coupling of academic and industrial entities is necessary,” he added.

Also, coupling chemical manufacturing with other industry sectors, such as power generation or steelmaking, will help to close the carbon cycle and more efficiently utilize energy resources. “We will always need carbon to make chemicals,” he explains. Steilemann added: “We as the chemical industry will play a leading role in driving the world to more sustainability. That’s why we are seeking more renewable feedstocks.”

Covestro has executed several projects where nontraditional feedstocks were deployed to make products more sustainable, including the use of plant-based raw materials to produce automotive coating formulations, which were recently commercialized in partnership with Audi.

Getting the Sustainability Facts Right...

The company also used plant-based raw materials to produce aniline, a key ingredient in many rigid foam products. Most recently, Covestro began using CO2 sourced from a neighboring ammonia plant to produce chemicals used in soft foam products. “Open innovation is absolutely key in mastering the challenges we see. We have to get away from folklore in the context of sustainability and look at facts,” says Steilemann.

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Sustainable chemistry is not without challenges, though. “You have to look at very complex value chains, and solutions are not ‘one size fits all’ — that’s why we need science and facts. That’s why we need less ideology and more ideas,” he emphasized.

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