The green future of the chemical industry
Without the chemical industry, our lives would be almost inconceivable. From the paint on our walls and the glue in our cell phones to our shoes and the mattress we sleep on - we encounter products from the chemical industry everywhere in our everyday lives. What would our world look like if all these goods could be produced more sustainably? That's what Henning Geinitz and his colleagues at thyssenkrupp Uhde are working on.
The chemical industry is one of the most CO2-intensive sectors worldwide. In 2020, it was both directly and indirectly responsible for around 113 million metric tons of CO2 across its energy- and raw material-intensive supply chain in Germany alone. This amounts to around 15 percent of German emissions. There is therefore still a lot of work to be done in this area in the coming years for the chemical industry also needs to become climate-neutral by 2045 in order to achieve the European climate targets.
thyssenkrupp is greening up the chemical industry
One company that is actively helping to create a green future is thyssenkrupp Uhde. The plant engineering specialists have set themselves the goal of creating CO2-neutral value chains for the future with their innovative solutions and green chemicals. But where do you start if you want to make the entire chemical industry more sustainable? "The main focus at Uhde is on our plant designs for the chemical industry, because this gives us the greatest leverage to increase sustainability," explains Henning Geinitz, Process Engineer and Head of Group Oxides and Specialty at thyssenkrupp Uhde. He adds, "There are several questions that need to be asked: Which of our technologies can be made more sustainable? What new technologies can we include in our portfolio? And which technologies may no longer be in demand in a world that is becoming more sustainable?"
Sustainable chemistry requires constant reevaluation of our portfolio
For Henning, it is precisely this reevaluation and consideration of the consequences of a particular decision that is the first step toward greater sustainability in chemical plant design. "We can only achieve the transformation if we think about sustainable processes in the long term and across all plants," he says. "For example, if part of a process plant has to be heated, we have to ask ourselves the question: What is the classic way? Steam. How is steam classically generated? With natural gas. This consumes scarce resources and generates CO2," the expert explains. "Sustainability is when you can continue something forever, or at least for a very long time, without running out of a resource."
“thyssenkrupp Uhde has always pursued one aspect of sustainability: the careful use of resources such as energy. That's why thyssenkrupp Uhde's chemical plants are already highly energy-optimized," explains the chemical engineer. “Other aspects now include what feedstocks can be used without depleting finite oil and gas reserves, how CO2 can be avoided through the right feedstocks, process and type of energies used and even if CO2 can be used as a feedstock "
The biggest challenge here? Managing the balancing act between new, sustainable projects and classic processes that can finance and drive the green transformation of the chemical industry.
Hans Uhde Award for sustainable projects
This is a challenge that Geinitz and his colleagues are already getting on top of. Only recently did he accept the Hans Uhde Award on behalf of a group of project engineers who supported a chemical plant project from the initial study, engineering, and construction through to commissioning. The prize recognizes outstanding achievements in science and is awarded annually to students from Dortmund Technical University and Dortmund University of Applied Sciences as well as to Uhde employees.
The award-winning MOL polyol project involves the engineering and construction by Uhde of an industrial complex for the chemical industry in Hungary. "The customer MOL will use our plants to produce polyether polyols and propylene glycols essentially from air, hydrogen, propylene and water in a multi-stage process chain. Polyether polyols and propylene glycols can be used, for example, as feedstocks in the production of mattresses, de-icing agents and shower gels," says Geinitz.
“Even though some of the feedstocks used in Hungary are still produced in the classical way, the plants provided by Uhde are highly energy-optimized and minimize emissions”, Geinitz explains. In line with thyssenkrupp Uhde's purpose statement "We create a livable planet", Geinitz and his colleagues are working to further optimize this efficiency and actively shape the green transformation of the chemical industry with their innovations and expertise.
You can find more exciting projects and sustainable technologies from thyssenkrupp in our stories.