From cars to home insulation – plastics replace materials that are less comfortable, safer and environmentally-friendly in terms of manufacture and while in use. For the production of such polymer materials, we require lots of raw materials such as gas, electricity and oil as well as lots of energy. Covestro therefore believes it has a responsibility to interact carefully with resources.
We also want to lead the way in reducing our impact on the environment. This is proven, for example, in our responsible interaction with water, energy and emissions, as well as in the use of alternative resources.
Our measures for a more sustainable production process
Energy and emissions
Our processes require a lot of energy. The chemical industry is therefore doing everything it can to optimize its efficiency and minimize the environmental impact of its own production processes. Covestro has taken on a leading role and developed a system whereby the energy consumption of plants can be measured and managed individually. In this way, we can make sure that as little energy as possible is consumed. With the system “STRUCTese™”, we’ve managed to reduce energy consumption in every production location by an average of ten percent since it was introduced in 2008.
The special thing about the system, among other things, is that the energy consumption of each individual plant is recorded continuously online and compared to a specially calculated optimal value. Expert teams also ascertain the energy efficiency of the plants, determine a status and improvement potentials and create action plans.
STRUCTese™ is now in use in 60 plants in Europe, Asia and America. Overall, it has led to Covestro being able to emit around 470,000 fewer tons of greenhouse gases per year and consume approximately 1.65 terawatt hours fewer of primary energy. This is about as much electricity as is produced by 360,000 wind turbines per year. For the successful development and implementation of STRUCTese™, Covestro was nominated as a finalist in the “Industry” category of the Handelsblatt Energy Awards 2016.
Overall, we have been able to reduce the specific energy needs of our production process by 34.5 percent from 2005 through 2016 and specific greenhouse gas emissions by 40.9 percent. We want to halve both values over the long-term in comparison to the base year.
Process innovations also contribute to this: for example, we have developed a process to manufacture chlorine using so-called oxygen depolarized cathode technology. This means 30 percent lower energy consumption in the manufacture of chlorine, which is very energy-intensive. We are also setting benchmarks in the manufacture of the foam precursor TDI with our gas phase technology . Compared to conventional processes, it saves energy and solvents and is therefore sustainable and provides us with a clear competitive advantage.
Covestro endeavors to reprocess water and use it several times over. This is precisely what currently happens in 16 locations, such as through closed cooling water circuits, the reutilization of treated waste water or the reintroduction of steam condensates as process water. In 2016, 3.1 cubic meters of water could be reused in this way.
The majority of the overall water used by Covestro is so-called “through flow cooling water” which is only heated and does not initially come into contact with foreign materials or products. For this reason, it can – almost without exception – be fed back into the water cycle without further treatment.
The wastewater produced is subject to strict monitoring and evaluation before it is fed into a disposal channel. It is cleaned in special treatment plants and only then is it fed back into the water cycle.
Furthermore, there is a plant currently undergoing technical tests in the company’s Uerdingen location that can recover saline wastewater from chlorine production. The salt recovered from this process is treated in such a way that it can be reused in our production process.
Fossil resources are dwindling and processing them for use in chemical products can also be very energy-intensive. For this reason, we want to tap into more and more alternative raw materials. We have already managed to do so in various parts of our production process – and we are working continuously on other projects. The long-term aim: to exclude the use of fossil resources completely wherever possible.
Currently we are already able to manufacture a coating hardener that comprises 70 percent biomass. Carbon dioxide is also increasingly becoming an alternative raw material. Since 2016, Covestro has manufactured a precursor for polyurethane flexible foam, 20 percent of which is based on CO2 instead of crude oil. At the same time, the company is researching and developing numerous additional products based on CO2 – always with the aim of making the world a more livable place
Moreover, our researchers have been able to manufacture the important raw material aniline from biomass in cooperation with industrial and academic partners: one hundred percent of the carbon contained in aniline thus comes from renewable raw materials. Currently, the process is being transferred from the laboratory to function on a larger scale. If it proves highly promising, Covestro could be able to manufacture the aniline it requires for its own needs from unrefined raw sugar, which is already derived from feed corn, straw or wood on a large scale. A big step towards an alternative raw material base.