Germany-based Covestro is a well-known supplier of premium polymers. Its materials and application solutions are found in nearly every area of modern life. Innovation and sustainability are the driving forces behind the continuous development of its innovations, processes and facilities. The company is currently developing new bio-based products.
Here, Bio Insight Markets’ Liz Gyekye caught up with Vera Essmann, New Technologies R&D Manager at Covestro.
Liz Gyekye (LG): What’s the story behind Covestro (@covestro)?
Vera Essmann (VE): As a world leading provider of high-value polymers, Covestro aims to help tackle some of the greatest challenges of our time, such as climate change and the increasing consumption of resources by a growing world population. Plastics play an essential and positive role in creating a more sustainable world, as they are at the heart of nearly everything in modern life. Covestro is constantly working on developing innovative products and processes to fulfil its purpose of making the world a brighter place.
LG: What is Covestro planning for the rest of the year?
VE: In 2020, we will continue to place a strong emphasis on the Circular Economy. In line with our long-term strategic program, my colleagues and I will continue to push boundaries and establish circularity in all business segments. Covestro has a dedicated approach to continuously move away from fossil fuels as much as possible, towards the use of alternative raw materials.
LG:What’s your sustainability focus for this year?
VE: In internal R&D projects as well as cooperations along the value chain, we are developing new products based on biomass, CO2, and recycled waste. Of course, the use of these alternative raw materials needs to be economically, ecologically and technically viable. For closing the carbon cycle, large amounts of green energy are also required. For example, Covestro has just concluded the world’s largest-ever corporate supply agreement with the energy supplier Ørsted for electricity from offshore wind turbines.
LG: What were you doing before you took up this role?
VE: Before taking up the role of an R&D manager, scouting new bio-based chemicals and technologies at Covestro, I did my PhD in the field of electrochemistry at Ruhr-University Bochum, Germany. Here, I was advancing a new technology for wireless electrochemistry and demonstrated its benefits in several fields such as electrocatalysis, photobioelectrochemistry, and spectroscopy. After this, I travelled through Southeast Asia for two months on my own to change perspectives and learn more about the world I live in.
LG: What advice would you give to somebody looking to get involved in this sector?
VE: I think it’s a great sector to work in because it forms the basis of so much! The high-performance materials which Covestro produces, are needed in a lot of other key segments such as the automotive, construction and electronics industries, to name a few. I get the chance to help shape the future of our economy and our society, making it more sustainable. I think it’s particularly helpful to have an interdisciplinary mindset if you choose to work in our industry. To develop bio-based raw materials, various aspects need to be considered and often a combination of skills are required, e.g. biotechnology and chemistry. For me, this is very motivating and one learns a lot.
LG: What’s your favourite sustainability product?
VE: This is a difficult question as at Covestro, we have already developed many products based on alternative raw materials, meaning biomass, waste or CO2, and are constantly decreasing our specific CO2 emissions in production processes. If I had to make a choice, I’d name our bio-based thermoplastic polyurethanes (TPUs). We are producing three different kinds in Taiwan under the Desmopan eco brand. I like them because, with up to 60%, they have quite a high biocontent that significantly contributes to lower GHG emissions at the usual excellent performance. Moreover, used in shoes or consumer electronics applications, the biobased TPUs directly enable individuals to become more sustainable in everyday life.
Vera Essmann will be speaking at the World Bio Markets Conference, the leading assembly for the bio-based economy, in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The conference takes place from 23-25th March.