Green innovation at Bayer MaterialScience

ICIS now officially opens its annual Innovation Awards, which is handled by co-blogger and colleague John Baker. This year, the award has a new category called Best Innovation for Sustainability sponsored by Dutch chemical firm DSM.

This category intends to recognize companies that have been innovative in their approach to embracing sustainability practices in product development and production to ensure long-term business continuity and environment quality (I am quoting John’s words here…).

I had an interview  a couple of weeks ago with Bayer MaterialScience’s chief administrative officer Robert Kumpf who is also the head of Bayer North American Corporate Sustainability Community Council. He talked about sustainability-related development programs at BMS here in the US as well as some of the company’s innovative new products and processs related to sustainability. I should have told him to try entering this year’s ICIS Innovation Awards.

As like other corporate strategies, Bayer’s sustainability challenge is to balance between economics, environment and social responsibility (you might have hear it as People, Planet, Profit in another sustainability language). Corporate social responsibility and innovation are two major aspects in the company’s sustainability strategies especially for Bayer MaterialScience, said Kumpf.

“The biggest contribution that chemical companies, in general, and Bayer, in particular, can give is in the area of carbon abatement and reducing energy use. If you’re a chemicals/materials company like us, we can do an awful lot to reduce carbon emissions and energy use,” said Kumpf.

He noted the US carbon footprint — at 7.1 gigaton — is mostly coming from manufacturing facilities, vehicles, and buildings (commercial and home). Kumpf said Bayer MaterialScience has a wide range of product portfolio and technologies ranging from insulating materials such as polyurethane foams, energy-saving lighting elements such as LEDs, and chemical processing that can significantly contributes to energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions.

The green blog is actually familiar with Bayer MaterialScience’s EcoCommercial Building program, which the company launched in late 2009. The program aims to raise awareness among key players in the construction industry of the significant potential of developing zero-emissions public and commercial building using integrated energy and material solutions.

Possible solutions, according to Bayer, include PU systems for floor coatings; long-life light emitting diode indoor and outdoor lighting systems; PU insulation for roofs, walls and floors, polycarbonate (PC) sheets for roofing constructions, glazing, skylights and facades; PU sealing systems; and solvent-free adhesives.

The blog’s attention, however, is more fascinated by some of BMS’s new chemical processing technologies. Kumpf cited as examples the company’s pilot project in Germany, which produces polyurethanes using carbon dioxide as feedstock; a new chlorine plant in Germany that uses a technology called “oxygen depolarized cathode”, which reduces electricity consumption by up to 30% lower than standard membrane technology; and its toluene diisocyanate (TDI) plant in China, which features a gas phase process that enables energy saving of up to 60% compared with conventional TDI plant of the same size. The plant started in late 2008.

According to Kumpf, the new TDI process uses up to 80% less solvent and cut investment costs by some 20%. BMS is replacing its existing TDI plants in Germany with the new process. For the chlorine technology, BMS said it expects to reduce 250,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents using the process by 2020.

Kumpf also noted internal sustainability initiatives in the US. The company said it has started training programs on sustainability thinking for its employees.

“We try to embed sustainability thinking into the minds of our own employees, which are the source of our innovation,” said Kumpf. “Even simple activities such as recycling, saving energy use and reducing material waste go a long way.” 

Kumpf did not disclose how much the company profited from its sustainability strategies.

Among Bayer’s businesses, Bayer MaterialScience, by the way, is responsible for around 80% of the company’s energy consumption. BMS aims to reduce its emissions by 25% by 2020, according to Bayer’s sustainability report.

From 2012, the group also wants to cut greenhouse gases by 350,000 tonnes/year using a global energy management system called STURCTese introduced in 2008. The system is expected to be implemented in BMS’s 60 most energy-intensive production facilities by next year, which could generate an average energy savings of around 10%.

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