Meet The Innovators at K 2022

Written by: Frank Rothbarth

The shift to a circular economy brings with it many challenges and changes – for people around the world. Innovations are needed everywhere so that a more sustainable society and economy can succeed. Behind innovations, in turn, are people who are researchers, inventors or developers in search of solutions for the future. K 2022, the world's leading trade fair for the plastics industry, is an El Dorado for innovators who care about a more sustainable future. Many of them are Covestro partners, and some will also be featured as part of the stage program at its booth.

Plastics are found in very many applications and will continue to be indispensable in the future, and demand will continue to rise. So far, they have been made primarily from petroleum derivatives, but there are innovative minds who want to change just that. For example, Lars Börger at Neste is researching waste and residual oils and fats, such as used cooking oil, to use as alternatives to fossil raw materials. And Kai Vogt, Head of Innovation & Hardware Equipment at outdoor equipment supplier VAUDE, plans for 90 percent of his company's plastic-based products to be based on at least 50 percent bio-based or recycled raw materials by 2024.

Used plastics are not waste, but a valuable resource. However, there is still a long way to go to make full use of them. But there are people who are developing innovative technologies to get to grips with complex recycling processes so that waste can be turned back into new products. Alexander Maak of recycling services provider Interzero is looking at managing the entire supply chain of raw materials, while Mesbah Sabur, founder of startup Circularise, is using blockchain technology to trace plastics back to their raw material base and still protect manufacturer information despite the transparency.

Partnerships aren't just important in our personal lives; they can transform entire industries. Partnerships will play a whole new role when material cycles are established on a larger scale in the future. Then not only customers and suppliers will work together, but also players as diverse as recycling specialists, plastics manufacturers and waste management companies. One example: bag manufacturer FREITAG has been making products from used truck tarpaulins for a long time. Now the company wants to close the loop and is working on various solutions, including together with a tarpaulin manufacturer, a logistics company and Covestro.

The expansion of renewable energies from wind, solar and hydropower has already made good progress. However, if we are to meet climate targets and implement an energy transition entirely from renewable sources, we need much more innovation. The challenge is not only to generate clean energy from renewable sources, but also to align energy grids and storage systems with future requirements.

For example, Professor André Bardow of ETH Zurich is looking at how surplus renewable energy can be stored or used in other ways, i.e., "Power2X". He sees a lot of potential, especially in the chemical industry, for storing energy in the form of hydrogen or ammonia for later use or as an energy buffer.

Felicity Underhill is working at the Australian company Fortescue Future Industries to produce carbon-free green hydrogen from 100 percent renewable sources. The ultimate goal is to reduce emissions in hard-to-decarbonize industries. The vision of Christina Sobfeldt Jahn and her employer, the energy supplier Ørsted, on the other hand, is a world powered entirely by green energy – including wind and solar power. Covestro has concluded supply agreements for green electricity with Ørsted and other energy suppliers.

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