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Report | February 2019

LANXESS expands production of high-performance materials

The LANXESS High Performance Materials business unit is also investing in its global production network for high performance plastics, and is building a further compounding plant at its Krefeld-Uerdingen site.

Bond-Laminates GmbH is increasing its production capacity for continuous fibre-reinforced thermoplastic composites of the brand Tepex. The company, a wholly-owned subsidiary of specialty chemicals company LANXESS, is currently building a new, fourth production hall of around 1,500 m2 at its Brilon site. Two additional production lines are scheduled to go into operation there in mid 2019. The company already produces innovative composites for the automotive industry and also for the electrical and sports industries on an area of around 5,000 m2. The investment, an amount in the single-digit-million-euro range, will significantly increase capacity to meet the growing demand for this forward-looking material. With this expansion, Bond-Laminates will create up to 30 new jobs.

The LANXESS High Performance Materials business unit is also investing in its global production network for high performance plastics, and is building a further compounding plant at its Krefeld-Uerdingen site for a sum within the mid-double-digit-million-euro range. Starting in the second half of 2019, LANXESS will produce Durethan and Pocan engineering plastics, which are used primarily in the automotive, electrical, and electronics industries. In addition, a warehouse and a silo facility will be built. Construction will start in the fourth quarter of 2018. The investment will create around 20 new jobs at the Krefeld-Uerdingen site. The new compounding plant will be designed in such a way that LANXESS will be able to expand its operations with further capacities in line with demand over the next few years.

High-performance plastics and composite materials from LANXESS make it possible to design components that replace metal parts in vehicles and thus contribute to reducing weight, fuel consumption, and emissions. The innovative materials are used, for example, in engine applications, door structures, pedals, front ends, seat shells, underbody panels, and cockpit cross members. Depending on the component, the lightweight construction can achieve weight savings of up to 50 per cent.

The continuous fibre-reinforced thermoplastic composites of the Tepex brand are increasingly used in series applications in the automotive, consumer electronics, and sports industries. The highly resilient material is processed by injection molding without additional post-processing steps. This makes Tepex the material of choice for high-volume mass production. In the sports industry, for example, it is used in the manufacture of shoe soles, bicycle components, ski boots, body protectors, and helmets.

There are also many applications for LANXESS materials in hybrid and purely electric vehicles, some of which have already proven their worth in series production. These include components for charging systems, carriers, cell holders for battery systems, and sensors and housing parts for electric motors. The materials also offer great potential in electromobility infrastructure, such as for housing parts, switches, and terminals for charging stations.

100 years of “Catalyst Laboratory” in Leverkusen

The “Catalyst Laboratory” was founded 100 years ago in Leverkusen – where the CHEMPARK is located today. At that time, the scope of activities was outlined as “work on catalytic reactions involving organic substances”. This laboratory now belongs to the specialty chemicals company LANXESS and operates as a cross-divisional competence center for catalysts and their applications.

On the occasion of the anniversary ceremony held at LANXESS in Leverkusen on December 17, 2018, Dr Dirk Müller, Head of the Global Technology & Innovation team within the Production, Technology, Safety & Environment Group Function, emphasised the importance of catalysis for the chemical industry: “Experts estimate that 80 to 90 per cent of all industrial chemical synthesis routes today contain at least one catalyzed reaction step. Catalysts ensure that the desired products are formed under mild conditions, safely, selectively and in high yields. Catalysis is therefore a key factor for energy and resource efficiency. It makes a decisive contribution to sustainability and cost-effectiveness.”

A catalyzed chemical reaction is characterised by increased reactivity and/or selectivity. The catalyst emerges from the reaction unchanged, i.e., it is not consumed itself. Industrial catalytic reactions are inspired by metabolic processes in all living organisms taking place under the influence of enzymes.

The catalyst laboratory owes its foundation to the growing industrial importance of heterogeneous catalytic reactions in which the catalyst and reacting substrates are present in different phases, e.g. solid/liquid and solid/gas systems. According to a historical report, interest was initially focused on “catalytic oxidations, reductions, hydrogenations, dehydrogenations, exchange and addition reactions”.

For many decades, the laboratory, together with the catalyst production plant made important contributions to the development of highly productive catalytic processes. Many new and improved catalysts were invented, manufactured and further developed here. Numerous operating instructions, recipes and patents bear witness to this.

Even today, the employees of the catalyst laboratory play a major role in ensuring that heterogeneous catalytic processes run as efficiently as possible in many production areas at LANXESS. For that purpose, they develop, optimise and characterize catalysts for new and existing processes and advise users on their procurement and on the selection and instruction of suitable manufacturers. If necessary, they also accompany the production process. Quality control of the catalysts, problem-solving operational support and process development are also part of their range of tasks. “Since we no longer produce catalysts ourselves today, we work together with competent suppliers to whom we provide precise recipes. Especially in the initial phase of the cooperation, the quality of the catalysts supplied has to be precisely controlled so that our production plants can produce the best possible products in a reproducible manner,” explains Paul Sprenger, head of the catalyst laboratory.

The performance of such catalysts depends not only on the chemical composition, but also on physical properties such as the shape of the particles or their active surface. For example, solid catalysts can have different forms of appearance. These include powders, pellets or extrudates made from the pure catalyst material, but also ceramic shapes as supports which are impregnated or coated with the catalytically active substance.

For decades, the catalyst laboratory has been intensively involved, for example, with catalyzed reactions within the aromatic network. However, it not only ensures continuity in ongoing production and in established processes – new challenges also have to be mastered. A current example of this is the development of a specially modified oxidic catalyst that allows the selective alkylation of an aromatic starting compound at the beginning of a longer synthesis sequence. “A total of about five years have passed since the first experiments and optimisation in the catalyst laboratory were turned into a functioning technical process that already produced around 100 metric tonnes of product in pilot scale. The next step is now the large-scale implementation,” says Sprenger, describing the path from the laboratory to the plant. Even in the laboratory phase, it is important to keep an eye on the specific requirements of industrial processes.

“Even minor impurities in the starting materials – not unusual in technical substances – can have an enormous effect on the productivity, selectivity and service life of a catalyst. In catalyst production itself, each step must also be considered individually and, if necessary, the sequence of steps must be varied,” Sprenger explains the task which can be complex from time to time.

LANXESS is a leading specialty chemicals company with sales of EUR 9.7 billion in 2017 and about 19,200 employees in 25 countries. The company is currently represented at 74 production sites worldwide. The core business of LANXESS is the development, manufacturing and marketing of chemical intermediates, additives, specialty chemicals and plastics.

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