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Covestro's innovative solutions turning wheel of circular economy

  • Author:By Song Mengxing
  • Source:
  • Release on:2019-10-16

Covestro's innovative solutions turning wheel of circular economy

By Song Mengxing | China Daily | Updated: 2019-09-07 06:43

Circular economy may be an abstract phrase, but when it is connected to a materials maker, it becomes easier to understand.

Key for a circular economy is that resources are efficiently used and recycled. It features recycling, reusing and remanufacturing to reduce resource input and waste. The closed system is opposite to the traditional "take, make, dispose" linear economy, said a senior executive from Covestro, a world-leading manufacturer of high-tech polymer materials.

Markus Steilemann, CEO of the company, made the remarks at the China Development Forum 2019 held in Beijing in March.

He said the circularity focuses on the whole cycle: from raw material purchase, production and use of products to waste treatment.

The circular economy should be an impetus for the plastics industry to jump out of the current model of "taking, making and wasting". Instead, it should pay attention to pollution prevention and control and the use of clean energy, he said.

Among the company's moves to support such an economy is using carbon dioxide as an alternative raw material to make foam components.

The industrial waste gas is used with crude oil to first make a precursor for soft foam with a white powder catalyst, and finally polyurethane foam is produced.

Chemically bound, the carbon dioxide cannot escape back into the atmosphere. The foam can be used for binders used in mattresses and sports floors.

The company said the big advantage is saving on crude oil, the conventional raw material of the chemical and plastics industry.

"I am sure we will be seeing more applications here," said Persefoni Hilken, project manager at Covestro, quoted from the company's website.

Researchers at RWTH Aachen University, together with experts from Covestro and those from the Technical University of Berlin, have succeeded in producing synthetic fibers using carbon dioxide on a large scale and processing them to create clothing.

A salt water recycling system is another example of Covestro's contribution to the circular economy. During polycarbonate production at Covestro's integrated site in Shanghai, waste salt water is generated. But it can be further processed into the raw material chlorine and water.

The site has set up a project recycling waste salt water from polycarbonate facilities with a local chloralkali company. It reduces the discharge of waste water and converts it into brine products, building a circular economy industrial chain, the company said. Up to 15 percent of its salt water has been reused since 2016.

Employees at the Shanghai site have been invited to support the circular economy in daily life, commuting in electric buses provided by the company. In the past, transport involved diesel buses.

The 59 vehicles of the Shanghai site together drive more than 2 million kilometers per year, which is equivalent to a lap around the globe per week, according to the company.

Participation has also been expanded to universities. Tongji University in Shanghai and Covestro have worked to develop sustainable material solutions in China.

The university and then Bayer MaterialScience, predecessor of Covestro, established an innovation academy in 2011. It aims to promote innovative models and results based on their strengths in the field of materials.

Enhancing the performance of electric automobile batteries is one of the academy's research focuses.

Teachers and students from Tongji University have visited Covestro sites worldwide during summer vacations over the past few years, including tours to Covestro's headquarters in Leverkusen, Germany, in 2018 and to Covestro's Innovation Center Japan this year.

The trips enabled the participants to learn more about developments in circular economy, such as the use of industrial waste water and materials production using carbon dioxide.

Tongji has become an important partner of Covestro in China, together training young professionals to develop sustainable materials solutions.

In order to live up to the growing significance of circular business models and the need for more efficient use of resources, a central coordinating office for circular economy was established at Covestro in 2017. It approves cooperative projects within the entire value chain and validates future potential for development projects across companies.

Insiders said plastics have opened up a world of opportunities and revolutionized medicine, lightened vehicles and modernized life. Global production of plastic has increased from 2.3 million metric tons in the 1950s to 335 million tons in 2016.

The planet may struggle with such a high production of plastic if its total life cycle is not managed in a sustainable way, they said.

Covestro said post-consumer recycled - known as PCR in the industry - plastic is an important solution. It refers to plastic that has been recycled and reprocessed from products which have been used by consumers.

The company's team in China has developed more than 10 PCR polycarbonate products that can be used in laptops, printers and electric chargers.

Early this year, Covestro also stepped up its measures against the uncontrolled disposal of plastic waste by joining the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, a new network of companies from across the globe, which is aimed at better managing and minimizing litter especially in the oceans while promoting meaningful plastic post-use solutions.

In China, Covestro said it will soon launch a picture book app to raise awareness of marine litter pollution among the young generation. The move will be part of a partnership with this year's "21st Century Cup" National English Speaking Competition, launched by China Daily earlier this month.