“Innovative thinking supports our climate ambition”

Offering groundbreaking sustainable solutions requires an innovative approach. Large and small manufacturers are asking themselves whether their production could be more environmentally friendly. Entrepreneurs are not only thinking in terms of economic benefits. Sustainability is getting more and more attention. Innovation in the chemical sector is also having a positive effect on the climate issue. Dr Steffen Kühling, a chemist and Managing Director of LANXESS NV, shares his ambitions for combining innovation with sustainability.

 

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Get to know LANXESS

LANXESS was spun off from the pharmaceuticals and chemicals giant Bayer in 2004. The name LANXESS is derived from the French word ‘lancer’ (to go forward), and the English word ‘success’. Success through progress, then, or progress is a form of success. It depends on how you look at it.

With more than 14,000 employees worldwide, LANXESS aims to be the market leader for the production of innovative specialist chemicals. At the Lillo site in Antwerp, caprolactam – a pre-product for manufacturing plastics – and polyamide are produced. In Kallo (Beveren), LANXESS produces glass fibre, which is also used in plastics, and rubber chemicals. The high-quality plastics from LANXESS are used mainly in the automotive and electronics industries. For example, they make cars lighter by replacing metal parts with high-tech plastics. As a result, cars weigh less and therefore consume less energy or fuel.

Keeping people well-informed is also acting sustainably

“After the Bayer-LANXESS split, our colleagues had some question marks. They had no idea where we were going. They used to work for a big mastodon with a lot of certainty, and suddenly LANXESS took over their activities. The company had to bring in a clear vision and create trust. This was important not only for our own people, but also for all our stakeholders. Our positioning on the international stage has to be crystal clear.”

The fourth pillar, sustainability is a given

LANXESS has had three clearly defined objectives since 2004.

  1. The optimum deployment of employees in the safest possible conditions
  2. Reliable and balanced production
  3. Informing and motivating people as best as possible

    In recent years, LANXESS has added an important fourth pillar.
     
  4. Acting sustainably and achieving climate neutrality by 2040.

 

If we look at the past, the production process weighed more heavily then than the impact on the climate. That's no longer the case. Our climate targets now have a prominent place

Steffen Kühlinga chemist and Managing Director of LANXESS NV

Innovation in production processes

Being a market leader in the sustainable production of specialist chemicals is not something you achieve overnight. Innovation plays an important role there too. Some products are quite old and in some cases also have a traditional production process. Steffen Kühling and his colleagues want to change that aspect in particular. The creation of new products and new applications from a sustainable point of view is also on the agenda every day. For LANXESS at the port of Antwerp, with four plants and around 1,000 employees in Lillo and Kallo, it is mainly about process innovation.

“Innovation is the key word here every time. We don't just want to have the courage to explore, we are genuinely curious and committed to making a difference,” says Steffen Kühling. “A good innovation – from production to applications – will outperform the competition. That's just the approach that makes us unique.”

The site in Lillo is a good example. The original construction dates back to 1965, but it looks remarkably new today. Numerous innovative process changes took the site to a higher, more sustainable level.

“Since LANXESS was started in 2004, over 500 million euros have been invested in the Antwerp sites. A clear signal that there are big ambitions to put progress first.”

Stability through buying and selling companies

“It's not our ambition to be the biggest player in the global chemicals market. Innovation, stability and sustainability are much more important to us than the size of our company.”

Generating stability is possible through continuous monitoring of the market. Where certain industries are suffering from economic regression, they see opportunities in sectors where there is a growing demand for their products.

The Group sells divisions that are no longer in line with their corporate policy. For example, LANXESS sold its rubber division in 2017. Why? “Our competitors have direct access to the oil wells. We don't, so why get into that battle? It yields neither financial nor climate benefits.”

“Flexibly responding to supply and demand is crucial. The scope of our production has been designed to better absorb economic movements, including crises. We do this not only from a business ideology – our people benefit from it as well. They feel reassured and continue to have confidence in LANXESS.”

Short lines to the customer

Stakeholder confidence is also high. LANXESS talks directly to its customers. For example, when a customer wants to launch the thinnest smartphone on the market, LANXESS sits down with all the parties. All the expertise contributes, with the end goal being the most relevant product produced in the most sustainable way possible.

"You have to understand the customers, grasp their needs and vision. This requires resources and knowledge, or you'll pass each other by. Every solution is different, so it's necessary to view each question as unique. That too is groundbreaking and innovative.”

Reducing laughing gas during production

Another example of innovation is the new air conditioning facility in Lillo to neutralise nitrous oxide. Nitrous oxide, or N2O, is created as a by-product during the production of the plastic semi-finished product caprolactam. At temperatures of around 1,000 degrees Celsius, nitrous oxide is neutralised into the components nitrogen and oxygen. The composition of nitrous oxide is not harmful to humans, but has an impact three hundred times more negative on the environment than CO2. LANXESS could not ignore this negative effect on the climate. Nitrogen oxide, or NOX, is also broken down and rendered harmless in the second phase.

The LANXESS air conditioning facility in Lillo reduces emissions by 150,000 tons of CO2-equivalent (CO2-eq) per year. In 2023, a second plant is scheduled to come into operation, which will reduce emissions by a further 300,000 tonnes of CO2-eq per year.

First phase: 150,000 tonnes CO2-equivalent reduction
Second phase: 300,000 tonnes CO2-equivalent reduction

More than 10 million euros were invested to make this project possible. The Lillo site sets the tone. It is the largest air conditioning facility of its kind in Europe and is therefore exemplary.

Climate neutral by 2040

Speaking of sustainable ambitions, LANXESS aims to be climate neutral by 2040. That is 10 years earlier than Europe's proposed target.

“Today, more than 150 projects are underway worldwide to achieve our goal of climate neutrality. These projects give us a positive outlook for meeting our ambitious climate goals.”