Innovation Demands Courage, CommitmentFri, 09/01/2017 - 23:10
The world is working to lower its dependence on oil but to succeed companies must have the courage to push boundaries and embrace change en masse, says Pascal Kornfuehrer, Managing Director of Covestro. “A sustainable vision demands a change in mindset from all industry participants,” he says. “Companies must embrace change and have the courage to implement it.”
Practicing what it preaches, Covestro has made sustainability a cornerstone in its global development plan. When the company established its business proposition before its IPO in September 2015, it outlined both R&D and sustainability as two drivers for its global strategy. This has paid off and Covestro’s share price has enjoyed an upward trajectory that now oscillates between €60 (US$68) and €70 (US$79.4) from its debut price of €24 (US$27). Covestro has focused on delivering sustainable technologies that contribute to profitable growth, while having positive implications for society and the environment. The company invests around 2 percent of its revenue in R&D operations, which accounted for €260 million (US$294.4 million) in 2016. “Our goal is to identify how we can improve our products to satisfy our clients’ demands, reduce our impact on the environment and identify opportunities to target new industry needs,” says Kornfuehrer.
Purging the world’s dependence on oil is a company priority and a driver for innovation. In 2016, Covestro was able to transform CO2 into a raw material, which not only had positive implications for its greenhouse gas emissions but allowed the company to replace up to 20 percent of the crude oil it normally used to manufacture polyurethane. “With this new technology, we have found a sustainable solution that also increases profitability along the value chain,” says Kornfuehrer. Covestro is using its CO2 technology in the production of a soft polyurethane foam used in mattresses. However, the material is also used in other industries, so for Kornfuehrer an application in the automotive industry is conceivable.
The company has also found a way to produce aniline, one of the main raw materials used in rigid insulation foams, from biomass. Aniline is normally obtained from benzene, which is a byproduct of crude oil and according to Kornfuehrer,
over 5 million tons of aniline are produced globally every year, with Covestro being responsible for approximately 20 percent of that. “Our 100 percent biomass aniline takes us one step further toward an oil-free industry,” he says. 197 Covestro’s quest for sustainability and innovation has also
led the company to support OEMs and suppliers with lighter structural components. The company recently delivered a concept design for an electric car at the K 2016 plastics trade fair in Düsseldorf. The car was wrapped in transparent polycarbonate glazing, replacing all glass components. This resulted in less weight and increased aerodynamics, directly impacting the vehicle’s fuel consumption.
Automotive suppliers like HELLA collaborated on the vehicle’s development stages, along with students from universities such as the Umeå Institute of Design in Sweden and the Northern Works design agency in Finland. “There is a constant exchange of technology between Covestro and other players in the automotive supply chain,” says Kornfuehrer. “We must not only focus on what we think is right for the industry. We need to talk with other players in the supply chain to identify current needs.”
The company also took its innovations to the skies in 2016, participating in the Solar Impulse 2 project. The goal was to create an aircraft that could circumnavigate the world solely powered by solar energy. Covestro supplied materials and technology that supported functionality. “We developed insulation polyurethane for the Solar Impulse 2 project to maintain a rigid structure while protecting the aircraft and also the pilots from extreme temperatures,” says Kornfuehrer. The company also provided transparent polycarbonate for the cockpit and coated the aircraft with polyurethane to protect it from wind and to reflect the sun. Solar Impulse 2 exemplifies what the future may look like for Covestro. “It is our intention to push boundaries and that means getting rid of any preconceptions we may have,” says Kornfuehrer. The company is already participating in its next challenge as a sponsor for Team Sonnenwagen Aachen in the World Solar Challenge 2017. The goal? To build a solar-powered vehicle that can travel 3,000km under the Australian sun.