Driving research on smart materials | Shanghai Daily
Chemical-based materials play an essential role in sustainable urbanization and enable many applications that can improve quality of life. Covestro, a world-leading supplier of high-tech polymer materials, has been a forerunner in initiating collaboration to advance the use of materials in achieving sustainable urbanization.
The Covestro-Tongji Chair for Sustainable Development has embarked on a research program to develop a blueprint for more sustainable urban communities in the future. Part of the program, the Urban Regeneration Project zooms in on Shanghai’s numerous worker villages that are scheduled for future renovation. The Regeneration Project does not only look at how to provide social and environmental benefits to the community, it also asks the question how to create an improved public environment and how those communities can be shielded against disasters such as floods and storm water.
Annette Wiedenbach, head of communications, public affairs and sustainability of Covestro China, talks about the company’s sustainability approach.
Q: What is Covestro’s approach in carrying out sustainability throughout your business strategy?
A: Our vision is to make the world a brighter place. To achieve this we ask ourselves three questions for every new product: “will it benefit society and its people”, “what’s the impact on the planet” and “will it provide the company with long-term profit”?
Sustainability for us is a business case. We constantly seek ways to reduce energy or water consumption, thus reducing our electricity or water bill. But we want to go beyond our own operations – we want to enable our partners along our products’ value cycle to operate in a sustainable manner. Where we have direct control of processes in that value cycle – raw materials sourcing, production, and logistics – we constantly seek to improve process and raw material consumption. For the other half of the cycle we have to collaborate with our customers to support cleaner operations on their side, make use of products for consumers more durable and find better ways for end-of-life recycling.
Q: What are Covestro’s goals in achieving sustainable development?
A: Sustainability is not only a business case for Covestro but also a growth opportunity. Increasing popular demand for more sustainable solutions, for example, in mobility, in housing or ambience drives our innovation. With consumers becoming more demanding of a product’s performance also with a view to social benefit and impact on the planet, we are focusing much of our innovation efforts on finding sustainable solutions.
Last year, we have made a pledge to dedicate 80 percent of our research and development expenditures to developing sustainable solutions, and we aim to cut specific greenhouse gas emissions per ton of products produced by 50 percent by 2025 compared to the baseline year 2005. By now, we have achieved roughly 41 percent. We also work with various stakeholders across the value cycle to enable them to achieve their own sustainability requirements.
Over the years, Covestro has been successful in finding alternative carbon sources for its production, providing material solutions for solar and wind energy, and enabling the realization of energy-efficient mobility and construction concepts.
Q: What are the achievements Covestro has gained in advancing your sustainability effort across the value cycle in China?
A: There are many achievements. Most recently, we cut the concentration of two major exhaust gases from our production at the Covestro Integrated Site Shanghai (CISS). By upgrading catalyst we reduced nitrous oxide (N2O) by 65 percent and nitrogen oxides (NOx) by 30 percent at a nitric acid plant at CISS in a commitment to reducing emissions.
Another significant example, we recently successfully completed the development and manufacture of the first ever large polyurethane rotor blade – which is 37.5 meters long – in China together with partners. Using polyurethane in blades can deliver superior mechanical performance and fatigue resistance, features improved productivity and is more cost effective. Innovations such as these will help advance the development of the wind power technology.
Q: What is the significance of the partnership between Covestro and Tongji University on sustainable development? What are the outcomes of the Urban Regeneration project?
A: The Covestro-Tongji Chair for Sustainable Development was initiated by Covestro and its long-term partner Tongji University at the end of 2015. It is an academic-industry partnership that aims at investigating the role of smart materials, for example, in transport, housing, energy or water management, and developing a blueprint for modern sustainable urban communities by bringing in various stakeholders across the value cycle.
Results of the first stage of research indicate that a possible application of, for example, polyurethane insulation materials in transformation of roofs, external walls as well as window and door frames in the worker villages’ regeneration, can achieve an energy savings rate as high as 8.6 percent. We believe Covestro can produce further evidence that materials play an important role to create more sustainable urban life.