Brunsbüttel celebrates its 50th birthday

Oil crisis, Watergate scandal and the premiere of the Rocky Horror Picture Show – these topics moved the world in 1973. And history was also made high up in northern Germany: with the groundbreaking of today's Brunsbüttel Industrial Park. This was followed by an impressive ascent. 50 years and countless successes later, the story is far from over. After all, Brunsbüttel is also excellently equipped for the future.

The site at the intersection of the Kiel Canal and the Elbe River can look back on a fascinating journey. It is characterized by steady growth, technological innovations and highly committed employees. It all began on October 4th, 1973, with the ceremonial groundbreaking in the presence of the then Prime Minister of the German federal state of Schleswig-Holstein, Dr. Gerhard Stoltenberg. A lot has happened since then. Today, with around 700 employees, the Covestro site is one of the most significant employers in the region.

This development was by no means foreseeable in the early days. The first years after the start of production were primarily devoted to the steady expansion of the infrastructure. Alongside the connection to the plant railroad, the opening of the fire station was one of the first milestones. To this day, many more would follow – from the construction of the legendary smokestack and the establishment of the company's own training center up to the entry in the book of Guinness World Records for the largest human puzzle piece.

„Brunsbüttel combines tradition with the future. The decades of insulation expertise at the site are increasingly demanded to tackle megatrends such as urbanization and food security.”

Dr. Markus Steilemann

CEO Covestro

MDI production at the heart

One of the growth drivers at the site to this day is the MDI production. The first plant was commissioned in 1988, continuously developed over the years and is the heart of the site. MDI – or methylene diphenylene diisocyanate (in long form) – is a central component for rigid foams that are used, for example, for the energy-efficient insulation of buildings and refrigeration appliances.

In 2012, the second millionth ton left the plant, and the team reached the third million in 2018. Just four years later, Brunsbüttel was able to report another milestone: the production of four million tons of MDI. That's equivalent to around 160,000 truckloads. With an average truck length of ten meters, this would result in a truck queue of 1,600 kilometers – almost twice as long as the longest stretch from northern to southern Germany.

The 1980s mark the beginning of the growth stage at the Covestro site in Brunsbüttel. Source: Bayer AG, Bayer Archives Leverkusen

With the construction of the second MDI plant in 2020, production capacity was increased once again – to 400,000 metric tons of MDI per year. This put Brunsbüttel in the top three of Europe's largest production sites for the foam component. With the help of the innovative AdiP technology, up to 40 percent steam and 25 percent electricity can be saved in the world-scale plant in terms of energy input per ton of MDI produced. As a result, CO₂ emissions are reduced by up to 35 percent.

Brunsbüttel's good infrastructure has made it particularly suitable for MDI expansion. In addition, raw materials and other precursors are sufficiently available here – for example aniline. The basic chemical aniline is an important starting material to produce the rigid foam component MDl. Since 1991, the site in Brunsbüttel has had its own production plant. It supplies MDI production reliably and around the clock.

Impressions from five decades of Brunsbüttel

A little more colorful with every year

The Brunsbüttel site also has much to offer visually. Visitors can easily recognize it even from a distance. This is due to the 132meterhigh smokestack that towers over the entire Covestro Brunsbüttel Industrial Park. It was constructed in 1977 and was painted over with a hundred giant, colorful puzzle pieces in 2016. A real showstopper!

In addition to the smokestack, many other buildings have also changed over the years. At the same time, new plants or technologies have been added continuously. Today, they are much more climate and environmentally friendly than they were 50 years ago. And the working world is also undergoing constant change. Today, Covestro employees in Brunsbüttel work in a modern and highly professional production environment. But see for yourself!

Industrial Park through the ages

Investing in the future

Over the last 50 years, the Covestro Brunsbüttel Industrial Park has developed into a modern and attractive industrial location. And to keep it that way, we are already thinking about tomorrow. The course in production has already been set with the latest investments. The task now is to make further progress towards a circular economy and operational climate neutrality by 2035.

And there is also plenty going on at the Brunsbüttel training and education center. Here, young talents gain exciting insights into the challenges of the chemical industry and are ideally prepared for working life at Covestro. So, there is no foreseeable end in sight for Brunsbüttel. On the contrary: The next 50 years can come.

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