Climate protection: How a change of perspective can turn dreams into reality

Reading time: 5 minutes
25 September 2017

Covestro, one of the world’s leading polymer companies, and a founding member of our EP100 campaign on energy productivity, is a pioneer when it comes to emissions reduction and clean tech development. Following Climate Week NYC 2017 – which concluded in New York on Sunday - Dr. Klaus Schaefer, Chief Technology Officer, Covestro AG, blogs on the importance of pushing boundaries in the fight against climate change.

Can the climate killer CO2 really be used as a raw material for industry? Can biomass replace oil to make chemicals? And can a solar-powered plane fly around the world using nothing but sun in its tank? Things that may seem completely out of this world are now reality thanks to a variety of products and technologies at our disposal, which can be used to systematically protect the environment, but we have to apply them forcefully.

We have to create innovations and technologies many consider unthinkable, to be able to beat climate change – one of the biggest challenges facing our world today. The chemical industry will be a driving force behind these innovations, with Covestro already pushing boundaries in a broad range of areas. As the first major European manufacturer to join The Climate Group’s EP100 campaign on energy productivity last year, we have certainly set some ambitious sustainability goals.

TWO KEYS TO ENERGY PRODUCTIVITY

Our world has its hands full: populations are growing at ever increasing rates, demand for mobility is rising and many other megatrends have emerged. At the same time, climate change is forcing us to dramatically reduce our CO2 emissions and conserve resources. There are two keys to sustainability that we must turn if we intend to successfully tackle these challenges. We must source energy and resources more sustainably. And we must use energy more efficiently.

Is there anything new here? Of course not, but our determination to carry out these commitments could be a lot more impactful.  It frequently comes down to a question of perspective; we should look beyond the horizon more and examine things from a different point of view.

FINDING SOLUTIONS BY REVERSING THE PERSPECTIVE

Let’s take a look at CO2; many consider it to be a climate killer, pure and simple. We intend to emit as little of it as possible in the future and some experts have even started talking about ‘decarbonization’, which doesn’t make sense, as all life on our planet is based on carbon. At Covestro we turned this way of thinking on its head: CO2 is precious and we want to use it as a raw material and conserve crude oil in the process. Generations of chemists ignored this approach, as they consider it to be a “loafer” for the simple reason that the molecule is not very reactive. Producing a raw material from it seemed like a pipe dream but now a new catalyst, developed with the help of academic researchers, has helped turn this dream into a reality. The result is a foam mattress made with CO2. Carbon dioxide turns into a plastic and the ‘climate killer’ becomes a benefactor. Innovations like these will reshape our society!

Another good example of this is aniline, a precursor made of crude oil that is used to make plastics. At Covestro, we have managed to produce aniline from biomass, which will also make industrial production much more sustainable. How did we accomplish this? We did not let our creativity be confined by preconceived ideas, and we gave our scientists the freedom to be courageous in their research.  The sky really is the limit.

DIGITALIZATION AS A GENERATOR OF PROGRESS

This brings me to my second point: energy efficiency. As an energy-intensive industry, we are part of the problem. Realizing this, we set ourselves some truly ambitious goals, so now, more importantly, we are part of the solution. Many promising and sustainable products will be based on the progress achieved by industry and the innovations invented by it.

For years, we have been diligently working to cut emissions and boost energy efficiency. Our goal at Covestro is ambitious: we plan to reduce our specific CO2 emissions (per ton of product) from 2005 to 2025 by 50%. We have already cut the level by about 40%. Now comes the hard part, the final few percentages. Digitalization has been a tremendous help in this effort. Using a special energy management system, we have significantly lowered energy consumption in our facilities, and, by significant, I mean 10% on average.

AN EYE ON THE BIG PICTURE

In an energy-intensive industry, we produce many products that will play a major role in the sustainability of our company and the future of our planet. For example, insulating materials for buildings save up to 70 times the energy used to produce them throughout their service life. The same is true for lightweight solutions in the automotive industry; they are the elements that make electromobility, with all of its savings potential, possible in the first place. Covestro materials also contributed to the lightweight design of Solar Impulse, the airplane that recently flew around the world while being powered by the sun’s rays.

At the beginning of this blog, I mentioned that we must forcefully apply existing solutions. So, why does it not happen more widely? Let´s be realistic; in many cases it still takes too long to see a return on the investment. The key question is where do we get the most economical CO2 reduction – lowest cost per unit CO2 avoided? We need to use our resources - including financial resources - more wisely, which should be the starting point for governments to create positive incentives.

OPEN MINDSETS AND NEW WAYS OF PERCEPTION

To successfully meet the global challenges of climate change, we need the will to innovate and the desire to take new approaches. In everything we do, we must think sustainably and push boundaries in order to find solutions yet to be thought of. The chemical industry will be an enabler of this change process. Many solutions have already been created with others being developed. If we systematically continue to work on these solutions, we can look optimistically toward the future.

Share
Facebook icon
Twitter icon
LinkedIn icon
e-mail icon
Google icon