How Catalysis Creates Value
Global efforts to enhance energy efficiency in chemical production and replace fossil fuels with low-emission solutions remain promising opportunities for Business Area Catalysis. The Business Area, comprising Business Unit Catalysts and Business Line Biofuels & Derivatives, focuses on innovation, proximity to customers, and digital approaches to offer high-performing catalytic and biofuel solutions.
1. Offering solutions to mitigate global warming
Climate change is one of the major global challenges of this century. To achieve the targets set out in the Paris Agreement, greenhouse gas emissions have to be cut drastically. Regulations emerging around the world reflect this ambition, increasing the demand for sustainable, renewable options to replace fossil fuels. In the European Union, the Renewable Energy Directive (RED II) defines a target of 3.5% by 2030 for the use of advanced biofuels. This will result in an annual demand of around five to ten million tons of advanced biofuels by 2030, requiring a significant extension of current production capacities. In China, a nationwide mandate to achieve a 10% renewable ethanol content in transportation fuels will be established with several provinces having a binding mandate already in place. To successfully replace fossil fuels, alternative energy carriers with a comparably high energy density are paramount. Business Unit Catalysts offers unique active materials to reduce customers’ carbon footprint and solutions to efficiently store energy. Business Line Biofuels & Derivatives profits from the increased demand in advanced biofuels, a promising low-emission solution and the main product of the Business Line.
Hydrogen production in containers
Business Unit Catalysts partnered with Ineratec, a specialist in the production of sustainable fuels and chemicals. Enabled by Clariant’s catalysts, Ineratec combines hydrogen generated from renewable energy sources with carbon dioxide to produce CO2-neutral synthetic hydrocarbons and fuels. Ineratec developed modular chemical reactors in easily transportable container units, ensuring a fast and easy setup.
2. Thinking outside the box because of COVID-19
Negotiations for supply contracts are a delicate affair involving trust and personal connections. As COVID-19 prohibited travel, in-person meetings became impossible. Thanks to meticulous preparations, state-of-the-art videoconferencing, as well as connections and trust established over the years, Business Unit Catalysts managed to seal important contracts nonetheless. Virtual interactions also played an important role for Business Line Biofuels & Derivatives: Negotiations and initial signing of the fourth license agreement for its sunliquid® technology with Eta Bio, a company owned by the Pavlovi family, took place online.
3. Meeting stringent emissions regulations
Concerns about climate change and human health have led to stringent emissions regulations, which chemical producers in many countries need to meet. In Zibo, Shandong province, China, for example, Clariant partnered with Jiangsu Jinneng, a specialist in volatile organic compound (VOC) abatement technology. At the phthalic anhydride plant of Shandong Qilu Plasticizers Co. Ltd., Clariant’s EnviCat® VOC catalyst is used to purify production off-gases, thereby removing up to 99% or more of VOCs and carbon monoxide.
4. Decarbonizing hydrogen production
Clariant and Technip Energies, a global leader in the energy industry, combined their expertise to develop a sustainable solution for hydrogen production with recuperative steam methane reforming. Both partners have a strong culture of innovation, which gives them a leading edge over competing technologies in the field of sustainability. Technip Energies’ patented Enhanced, Annular, Reforming Tube for Hydrogen (EARTH®) and syngas technology uses a unique geometric reformer layout combined with a highly active, stable, and mechanically robust catalyst. Provided by Clariant, the tailor-made catalyst promotes efficient and optimized heat transfer and ensures a low pressure drop, increasing the energy efficiency of the hydrogen production process. EARTH® can increase reforming capacity by up to 20% while reducing fuel consumption by up to 30% and the hydrogen CO2 footprint by up to 10%.
5. Speeding up catalyst innovation
In 2020, Clariant doubled the capacity of its high-throughput catalyst Research & Development center in Palo Alto, California. The high-throughput methodology allows the company to reduce the time required for catalyst discovery and development by around three to four years. The quicker time-to-market is facilitated by state-of-the-art robotics, hardware, software, and automated procedures. Chemical and engineering experts in hardware design, fabrication, assembly, software, and data science all contribute to the work in the laboratory, which was first established in 2009. The research center now allows more projects and experiments to be executed within the same time frame, as parameters may be altered swiftly between different runs. The investment further supports customers with custom catalyst services, swiftly turning their requirements into commercial solutions.
6. Creating data-based process models
Business Unit Catalysts closely collaborates with Navigance®, a Clariant subsidiary. Navigance® combines chemical process and catalyst expertise with data modeling know-how to build customer-specific process models. With the help of machine learning and advanced data analysis, process data is used to maximize plant availability and optimize efficiency. Navigance® provides a software as a service that offers extensive data visualization capabilities and supports customers in their digitalization efforts.
7. Launching a phthalate-free solution for polypropylene production
In 2020, Business Unit Catalysts launched the PolyMax® 600 series, a phthalate-free catalyst primarily used for polypropylene production. Due to growing concern over toxic effects and stricter regulations, producers are looking for phthalate-free solutions. PolyMax® 600 series catalysts are safe for food contact and boost plant productivity by up to 10%. In addition, polypropylene produced with PolyMax® 600 series shows improved mechanical performance characteristics such as enhanced impact resistance.
8. Interacting with customers during COVID-19
To maintain a dialog with customers and prospects during the global pandemic, Business Unit Catalysts hosted a significant number of webinars to offer information about product innovations and address customers’ most pressing questions. Customers appreciated the opportunity to increase their knowledge, and webinars will remain a part of digital marketing efforts of Business Unit Catalysts in the future. To keep customers and prospects engaged, Business Line Biofuels & Derivatives offered virtual 360° tours of the precommercial plant in Straubing for one-on-one discussions. Since spring 2020, drone videos taken every month at the sunliquid® plant construction site in Podari, Romania, have been used to keep clients and prospects informed. The Business Line also took part in over a dozen virtual conferences and webinars to keep prospects and customers up to date with the latest developments regarding sunliquid®.
9. Expanding the catalytic business in China
China remains one of the fastest growing markets. Business Unit Catalysts is building a new production site for CATOFIN™ catalysts in Jiaxing, Zhejiang province. The investment supports future growth and strengthens Clariant’s support of China’s petrochemicals industry. The plant is the most digitized Clariant facility to date, using sophisticated automation systems throughout the production process.
Continued success of CATOFIN™
CATOFIN™ is a reliable and efficient dehydrogenation catalyst used in the production of olefins such as propylene or isobutylene. The catalyst is used in combination with Clariant’s Heat Generating Material, further increasing selectivity and yield of production units. By the end of 2020, CATOFIN™ plants around the world produced more than 10 million metric tons of olefins.
»China continues to be a growth market with attractive prospects. The new CATOFIN™ plant will be of great benefit to our company’s positioning and customer proximity in the entire region, marking another cornerstone of Clariant’s Fringe to Core strategy execution.«
Hans Bohnen, Chief Operating Officer
10. Upscaling sunliquid® in China…
In 2020, Business Line Biofuels & Derivatives forged a strategic partnership with Chemtex Global Corporation for second-generation (2G) biofuel projects in China. The partners provide a comprehensive package of 2G ethanol technology licenses with engineering and construction services. As a first result of this collaboration, together with Anhui Guozhen Group, a full-scale commercial cellulosic ethanol production plant in Fuyang, China, will be realized. The plant will produce 50 000 tons of cellulosic ethanol per year, with an option to double this output in a second phase. Locally sourced wheat straw and corn stover will be used as feedstock, and the cellulosic ethanol produced will enter the regional fuels market, helping to fulfill the national blending mandate for transportation fuels.
»China represents one of the key growth markets for Clariant. The strategic partnership with Chemtex is another milestone reached in our continued pursuit of the corporate goal of Adding Value with Sustainability.«Christian Librera Vice President and Head of Business Line Biofuels & Derivatives
11. …and in Europe
In 2020, Eta Bio, a company owned by the Pavlovi family, which runs a leading business in the agricultural sector in Bulgaria, acquired a sunliquid® license. The new plant will be built and operated at a greenfield site in the northeast of Bulgaria, utilizing available land and existing infrastructure. The annual production will reach 50 000 tons of cellulosic ethanol, processing around 250 000 tons of wheat straw.
sunliquid®: Converting agricultural residues to biofuel and biochemical intermediates
sunliquid® is the technology cornerstone of Business Line Biofuels & Derivatives. With sunliquid®, agricultural residues are converted into biofuels and biochemical intermediates. First, agricultural residues such as wheat straw, corn stover, or sugarcane bagasse are treated with steam and exposed to a sudden drop in pressure, causing the straw to break down. The straw remnants enter a series of reactors, where they are liquified through specific enzymes that are produced on-site. The enzymes break down the straw into simple sugars that are fermented, generating an ethanol-water mixture. Finally, the ethanol is purified and used as biofuel or a precursor for biochemicals. The sunliquid® process is energy self-sufficient as the insoluble part of the straw, lignin, is used for energy generation.
12. Streamlining supply chain management
Business Unit Catalysts finished implementing Clariant’s end-to-end supply chain management dashboard in 2020. The dashboard offers quick diagnostics, enables root cause analysis, and provides an overview of suppliers, along with price developments, response and delivery times, as well as supplier sustainability risks.
13. Setting up the sunliquid® supply chain
Over the past three years, Business Line Biofuels & Derivatives successfully set up its supply chain in Romania. A feedstock team established long-term contracts with almost 300 farmers, ensuring stable and reliable straw supply for the operational phase of the plant. With the partnerships established so far, Clariant already secured most of the raw material required for the plant in Podari. All feedstock is certified according to the International Sustainability & Carbon Certification (ISCC) system, which indicates that feedstock is from renewable sources. Since 2019, Business Line Biofuels & Derivatives has used a digital application to support the operation of the straw supply chain. The specially designed software allows Clariant to monitor the harvest in real time and provides the Business Line with an overview of total stocks of straw bales produced and collected, as well as transportation means used. The monitoring enables process control and efficient logistics.
How sunliquid® creates value across capital types
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Manufactured Capital sunliquid®
sunliquid® is a groundbreaking technology to produce advanced biofuels and biochemical intermediates from agricultural residues such as wheat straw, corn stover, or sugarcane bagasse.
Investment for growth
Clariant is investing a low triple digit million amount in its first-of-its-kind commercial sunliquid® cellulosic ethanol plant in Romania, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2021. In addition, the project will receive double-digit million-euro funding from the European Union.Attractive profitability
Business Line Biofuels and Derivatives is expected to enhance growth and profitability in Clariant’s Business Area Catalysis and be substantially accretive to the Business Area’s mid-term EBITDA margin target of 26 – 30%.
5 license agreements
License agreements with five renowned industry players in Slovakia, Poland, China, and Bulgaria demonstrate the global interest in this promising technology.> 350 patents
Clariant holds more than 350 patents worldwide for the sunliquid® process.
~ 400 jobs
After completion of the sunliquid® plant in Romania, the plant will employ a workforce of up to 100 to produce carbon-neutral biofuel. The plant is also expected to provide approximately 300 permanent jobs in supporting industries serving the site, for example in transportation and storage of the feedstock.
Locally sourced agricultural residues - such as wheat straw at the Romanian sunliquid® plant - are used as feedstock. 250 000 tons of wheat straw generate 50 000 tons of cellulosic ethanol, which can be readily blended into conventional fuel and used in today’s car infrastructure.
~ 95% CO2 emission reduction
sunliquid® combats climate change by helping decarbonize the transport sector. Compared to gasoline, sunliquid® reduces ~ 95% of CO2 emissions. A sunliquid® plant producing 50 000 tons per year of cellulosic ethanol can save ~ 120 000 tons per year of CO2, the equivalent of emissions from ~ 35 000 cars. The greenhouse gas savings with sunliquid® could reach ~ 120% compared to fossil fuels when taking carbon capture into consideration.
14. Assembling the sunliquid® plant in Romania
Construction of the sunliquid® plant in Podari, Romania, progressed significantly in 2020 in full compliance with COVID-19 precautions. Several milestones have been reached on the construction site, including the installation of most of the large equipment. This puts Clariant on track to complete the construction by the end of 2021, after which start-up and production will commence. Once operational, the plant will produce 50 000 tons of cellulosic ethanol per year, processing around 250 000 tons of straw.
Generating process energy from residues
Together with GETEC, a German energy services company, Clariant received the energy efficiency award in the category »Concepts for Increasing Energy Efficiency« by the German Energy Agency (dena). The award was granted for the joint project in Podari, Romania, where residue lignin is used to generate steam and electricity for the entire sunliquid® process.
15. Ensuring safe operations
For Business Unit Catalysts, ensuring occupational health, safety, and well-being of employees is a continuous priority. The Business Unit aims to keep the lost time accident rate (LTAR) below 0.27. In 2020, COVID-19 dominated occupational health and safety measures at Business Unit Catalysts, and all precautions to minimize spread of the virus and fulfill local regulations were taken. Furthermore, safety awareness trainings at multiple sites were conducted and the reporting rate of recorded injuries improved. Business Line Biofuels & Derivatives also took decisive measures to reduce risks related to COVID-19 and comply with regulations established by authorities. At the construction site in Podari, Romania, a comprehensive COVID-19 safety concept was established. To strengthen safety awareness and culture overall, »Safety Checks« were conducted throughout the year to analyze unsafe behavior and evaluate work conditions or equipment.
Growth potential per year
EBITDA target margin
R&D spend of sales
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Energy consumption in m kWh
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