Business Area How Catalysis creates value

The Business Area Catalysis is a market and technology leader, delivering solutions that add value for customers in the petrochemical, chemicals, plastics, and refining industries. Although Clariant’s smallest Business Area in terms of sales, Catalysis is one of the company’s most profitable with high growth rates.

  • Ammonia
  • Custom Catalysts
  • Ethylene and derivatives
  • Fischer-Tropsch
  • Fuel cell
  • Fuel upgrading
  • Gasoline desulfurization
  • Gas processing
  • Hydrogenation
  • Methanol
  • Off-gas treatment for chemical plants and stationary engines
  • Oxidation
  • Polypropylene and on-purpose propylene
  • Refinery hydrogen
  • Refinery stream purification
  • Sour gas shift
  • Steam cracker/ Olefin purification
  • Styrene and BTX, MTP
  • Synthetic natural gas
  • Zeolite powders

Global approach with a local focus

The Business Area Catalysis, consisting of the Business Unit Catalysts, is a leading global catalyst supplier with a long history of innovation and expertise. Creating Performance Technology® is at the heart of the Business Area’s mission, together with the core values of Performance, People, Planet. Innovative catalysts and adsorbents deliver significant and sustainable value to customers by enabling higher production throughput, while lowering energy consumption and reducing hazardous emissions from industrial processes and combustion engines. Clariant’s catalysts and technologies also enable the use of alternative feedstock, such as natural gas, coal, and biomass, as raw materials for chemical and fuel production.

Catalysis operates globally but with a local focus, providing solutions that are driven by regional trends, requirements, and needs. The Business Area runs a global network of twelve production sites, with approximately 1 548 employees serving customers across all regional markets.

To ensure above industry growth, the strategy of Catalysts focuses on leading in innovation, close partnership with process technology licensors, executive customized strategy and continuous efficiency improvement. In addition, Catalysis are in the forefront of new market and technology trends such as sustainability and digitalization.

Catalysis encountered challenging market conditions due to slow down in the Chinese economy, low commodity prices, postponement of new petrochemical and chemical projects due to low oil price and more. This has adversely affected both the replacement business and first fill sales, which led to a lower sales volume for the entire industry.

Global challenges as drivers for sustainable growth

Key global trends such as population growth, increased purchasing power, and rising wealth in emerging countries are driving demand for resources such as energy, nutrition, and land. At the same time, environmental issues such as climate change, loss of biodiversity, water supply challenges, and waste production are becoming more evident. Mastering those global challenges requires the support and advances of the chemical industry, particularly the catalyst business. By improving chemical process efficiency, enabling the use of alternative feedstocks, and developing environmentally compatible catalytic solutions, the Business Area Catalysis directly addresses the global challenges of raw material scarcity, energy efficiency, and environmental degradation. While growth in the catalyst industry primarily reflects GDP growth, but at a slightly higher level, environmental regulations and the need for resource conservation also drive growth even further, particularly with regard to environmental catalysts. The Business Area’s solutions help customers reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions even when increasing chemical production.

Worldwide, the demand from customers, partners, and governments for sustainable products and solutions is increasing. Key drivers are mandated emission reductions, increasing waste volume and disposal costs, and adjusted waste classifications. AmoMax® 10 catalyst is a great example of innovation and sustainability as it significantly reduces energy consumption in the production of nitrogen-based fertilizers. Fertilizer is needed to make arable land more productive, but its manufacturing requires high energy inputs and generates substantial CO2 emissions. AmoMax® 10 is a highly active catalyst that, to date, has helped customers avoid the release of 500 000 tons of CO2 and save approximately 1 000 gigawatt hours of energy annually – the energy need of an 80 000-household city.

AmoMax® 10 saves energy and money in ammonia synthesis, used in fertilizer production for example.

Read more:
Chapter »A Strong Engine for Value Creation«

»To meet societal needs, energy and emissions footprints will grow unless significant innovation occurs.«

Ed Rightor Chemist, Dow Chemicals
Saginaw, Michigan, USA

The products and solutions of Business Area Catalysis guarantee efficient use of the raw materials and energy needed for the production of industry chemicals, plastics and fuels. Approximately 80% of the chemical reactions in these supply chains implement catalysts. So, these little helpers are part of an answer to a big question: Where is our future energy going to come from to sustain the technology that increasingly interconnects our lives? This calls for creative problem solving on multiple levels. We don’t just need new energy sources, but also brilliant ideas to manage our current resources more economically. Every individual habit and each industrial process is on trial. For even a tiny adjustment can tip the scale toward serious energy efficiency.

Interview Catalyzing energy efficiency

Wolf Spaether, Head of Market Segment Styrene/MTP, BU Catalysts (portrait)
Wolf Spaether Head of Market Segment Styrene/MTP Business Unit Catalysts

For a chemical reaction to work as desired, an external energy supply is often necessary. This is especially true for the petrochemical industry. Tires, CD cases, electronics housings, and plastics for toys all require the substance styrene. To produce it, a thermal energy of 800°C steam is necessary. Wolf Spaether, Head of Market Segment Styrene/MTP, BU Catalysts talks about the development of StyroMax® UL3, an innovative styrene catalyst.

Which challenges do the industries face that StyroMax® UL3 serves?

Wolf Spaether Our customers are producers of styrene monomer (SM), which, in terms of volume, is the fourth-largest plastics building block in the petrochemical industry. Some of the major industry challenges are the volatile selling prices and the pressure on margins. The catalyst is decisive for optimizing production costs. It substantially determines SM yields and the amount of energy needed.

Previous generations of catalysts either showed good activity or good selectivity, but not both at the same time. Why hasn’t this been possible so far?

With a higher activity, the customer can produce a larger product volume at the same operating temperature. A higher selectivity means, more of the desired product (styrene monomer) is produced and less of undesired by-products, such as benzene or toluene. Formulation adjustments in favor of higher activity normally entail losses in selectivity. Therefore, our R&D team in Toyama, Japan (with support from our high-throughput laboratory in Palo Alto, CA) tested a large number of formulation variants in parallel mode, and then transferred the most successful formulation to our catalyst plants. The result is our StyroMax® UL3 catalyst, which exhibits a unique combination of high activity and high selectivity in ultra low steam-to-oil (S/O) ratio operation conditions.

What can you say about the collaboration with Grand Pacific Petrochemical Corporation (GPPC)?

GPPC Taiwan is a fully integrated styrene player with two styrene monomer plants. Since the mid-1980s, Clariant has worked closely with GPPC. As a result of this collaboration, GPPC has successfully implemented different generations of our styrene catalysts. The trust between Clariant and GPPC was key to the first commercial implementation of StyroMax® UL3 and it has performed extremely well. After loading the catalyst, the plant reached full output very quickly. The reactor temperature could be decreased and selectivity was raised. As a result, less of the raw material is necessary and the energy consumption is lowered.

Less energy

Using ultra low steam-to-oil (S/O) ratio conditions in the styrene production process means considerably less steam needs to be generated, allowing for significant energy savings.

High performance

StyroMax® UL3 promotes the production of styrene monomer more efficiently than other catalysts due to its high activity and selectivity at ultra low steam-to-oil (S/O) ratio conditions.

Lower costs

StyroMax® UL3 reduces operational costs significantly with higher activity and selectivity and a reduced steam-to-oil (S/O) ratio.

Did you know? What are »ultra-low steam-to-oil ratio« conditions?

The dehydrogenation of ethylbenzene to styrene monomer is an endothermic reaction, which means a large amount of energy is consumed. This energy is added primarily through overheated process steam, i.e., steam with a temperature of about 800° C. The ratio of process steam to ethylbenzene input material is called the steam-to-oil (S/O) ratio. An ultra-low S/O ratio of 1.0 means: Styrene monomer is produced in a very energy-efficient way, and, in turn, less fuel is needed to produce this energy.

Business Area Value Creation Phases

Idea to Market Strong commitment to R&D

The Business Area Catalysis is a leading global developer and producer of catalysts and adsorbents for industrial processes. For Catalysis, leading in innovation requires a three-fold approach: focus – define, review, and prioritize key applications; speed – accelerate time-to-market; and expertise – nominate expert teams, implement a process technology organization, and protect intellectual property. With Catalysis’ strong commitment to innovation comes a significant investment in R&D. Globally, more than 300 R&D experts work in eleven R&D and Technical Centers. To further strengthen its leading position in innovation, the Business Area is committed to developing cutting-edge solutions that maximize customer value creation. Catalysis systematically observes, evaluates, and implements breakthrough technological innovations that open up new markets and applications. Additionally, the Business Area continuously improves the performance of existing products and processes in order to defend the leading market positions. With more than 100 ongoing projects for about 40 applications, the Business Area ensures that both money and time are used efficiently and in the most attractive fields.

In order to ensure that R&D activities provide the best service to customers and meet market demands, every innovation starts with asking what customers really need. The Business Area collaborates with approximately 20 academic institutions globally that are undertaking advanced research in catalysis. In 2016, customization activities in China were scaled up in order to deliver tailored products and solutions to Chinese customers.

A market leader in N2O abatement technologies The recently launched EnviCat® N2O-S not only reduces N2O emissions but also increases nitric acid yields.
Carbon2Chem Clariant provides methanol catalysts and application know-how to this cross-industry project, sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

Read more:
Sustainability Report

Furthermore, in order to maintain the leading market position, accelerating time-to-market is a key success factor. In-house, pilot-scale facilities enable the verification of results at concept stage prior to full scale-up in a plant. The Business Area runs a lab in Palo Alto, California, that focuses entirely on high-throughput research and is fully integrated into Clariant’s Idea to Market process. The lab provides a headstart for Clariant’s catalyst R&D, reducing the discovery phase significantly, and is considered a time-to-market booster as it can save around three to four years of research time.

Market to Customer Engineering services delivered by leading experts

The Business Area Catalysis attaches great importance to service orientation. In order to ensure safe, reliable and cost-effective plant operations, highly experienced technical service engineers assist customers and end-users in a variety of process catalyst operations. Engineering services provide a range from routine catalysts performance evaluation and monitoring to troubleshooting with – if requested – on site service and software provisioning as well as training and knowledge exchange.

To remain a market and technology leader, the Business Area also partners with leading technology licensors. Strong and successful partnerships with engineering companies, for example, enable the Business Area to further develop existing technical and catalytic solutions and to extend participation in new large-scale projects. Such partnerships contribute significantly to the development of products and solutions tailored to the needs of specific markets or key customers. On this front, Catalysis will be extending its cooperation with Chinese engineering companies, design institutes, and universities to capitalize on the opportunities offered in the Greater China region.

Clariant Catalysts believes in a global set-up with local focus: while functions like R&D and Engineering Services are global in their structure, the Business Unit also has a strong regional presence to cater to client needs, as these may be different from country to country. Overall, Clariant Catalysts has twelve production sites and eleven R&D and Technical Centers around the world. The Business Unit boasts an extensive network of offices in all regional markets.

Customer to Cash State-of-the-art production sites and procurement

In 2016, the Business Area Catalysis inaugurated a new polypropylene catalyst plant in Louisville, KY, USA. This project is part of Clariant’s long-term strategic partnership with CB&I’s Novolen Technology business. The addition of the polypropylene catalyst plant further strengthens Louisville as the most important site for Clariant’s Business Unit Catalysts in North America. The innovative catalysts produced in Louisville will help to ensure that raw materials and energy are used efficiently in polypropylene production worldwide.

In 2016, Clariant also launched the Procurement Excellence Program (CPX) for the Business Unit Catalysts, analyzing the supply markets for metals and catalyst carriers. In this program, methods to strengthen the Business Unit’s commercial position for buying raw materials and for reducing operational expenses were developed. Group Procurement Services and the BU Catalysts jointly developed an implementation plan that covers a 24-month period. By the end of 2016, the first commercial improvement levers had been achieved.

Louisville The addition of a polypropylene catalyst facility further strengthens Louisville as Business Unit’s Catalyst most important North American site.

Business Area Key Performance Indicators

Business model

Catalysis transforms capitals for additional value creation.

Business model



Growth potential per year


EBITDA target margin


>6.5% R&D spend of sales
218 Raw materials procured
in CHF m
90 Active innovation projects
29520 Training hours
433 Raw material suppliers
12 Production sites (50:50 or minority joint ventures not included)
1070 Number of raw materials procured
389 Energy consumption
in m kWh


673 Sales in CHF m
–8% Growth in local currencies
23.8% EBITDA margin before exceptional items
1548 Staff in FTE at year end
(2015: 1 748)
90% Customers want to continue doing business
78% Customers plan to intensify business relationship
0.04 Production volume
in m t
2819 Greenhouse gas emissions
in kg/t production
7.8 Waste in thousand t
  • Financial capital
  • Intellectual capital
  • Human capital
  • Relationship capital
  • Manufactured capital
  • Natural capital