12/03/2021 | Process Innovation

Interview with Torsten Wintergerste | Sulzer

Sulzer Chemtech’s Division President Torsten Wintergerste looks at how their mass transfer technologies have helped to bring new thinking to the plastic manufacturing and processing sector.

ACHEMA Inspire: What is the company’s main focus when it comes to plastics and plastics processing? What kind of projects is the company involved in?

  • __Wintergerste: A recent focus has been on offering technologies that can process increasingly popular bio-based or recycled materials. We are involved in a wide range of projects aimed at realising cutting-edge ideas to produce and reuse plastics in a sustainable way. For example, Sulzer Chemtech has played a key role in establishing commercial-scale technologies and plants for the production of PLA bioplastic. Currently, most, if not all, active facilities feature our equipment.

ACHEMA Inspire: In what way has Sulzer Chemtech contributed to innovations in the plastics production and processing?

  • __Wintergerste: We have a customer-centric and opportunity-driven approach. All of our teams are continuously looking at how the market is evolving and where it is headed to help our customers with state-of-the-art solutions. In effect, by identifying keytrends, we can be proactive and develop innovative technologies to meet future needs. Innovations that we create focus on improving distillation towers, extruders and static mixers, as well as optimising plastic processing.
    While Sulzer Chemtech’s work in sustainable plastic production has been pioneering, the goal has always been to be very pragmatic. Our expertise in developing large processing plants for plastics is one of the key elements that allows us to succeed in this.  We have helped to substantially reduce processing and operating costs for our customers, resulting in end products with highly competitive prices. For example, the most important contribution from Sulzer Chemtech in the production of PLA-based bioplastics is the cost-effective transformation of lactate into high-purity polymers. Another key element is our global presence and wide network of experts. This allows us to offer localised support as well as mobilise international teams to complete any project. 

ACHEMA Inspire: In what ways do the environmental, social, economic, and technological environments impact you?

  • __Wintergerste: Our company has always been incredibly proactive by proposing new technologies to our customers and developing new innovative processes.
    Today the situation is very inverted. Customers are now asking for advice on technologies to help them. Hence, the current social circumstances are supporting the technological shift we began two years ago. From an economical perspective, offering plastic materials at low cost is a priority. Therefore, the company is leveraging its technologies to help businesses produce bio-based or recycled products at the same or a lower cost than that of conventional polymers.

ACHEMA Inspire: How has the transition to sustainability affected operations?

  • __Wintergerste: We are supporting many sustainable plastic and manufacturing strategies by offering key mass transfer technologies to enable them. As our knowledge behind the processing of plant-based materials and alternative resources has expanded, our teams have become more diverse. For example, we have an ever-growing body of life science specialists. Just as the bioplastic market is continually evolving, Sulzer Chemtech is continuously developing pioneering solutions. These help us address changing market needs.

ACHEMA Inspire: How has the sustainability trend affected your customers and do you have the necessary expertise in this area? 

  • __Wintergerste: There is a very high demand for recycling, bio-based and renewable applications, with many of our customers actively engaged in creating innovative plants to produce sustainable materials. I can see a lot of interest in the recycling of textiles, which consist of cellulose and fibres. At the last Paris Fashion Week I discussed in detail how our new technology can help to create a circular economy for textiles with several well-known companies. Our specialised global Bio-based and Renewables application development team is well equipped to support innovative projects. Even more, our specialists are continuously developing their skills and knowledge to offer state-of-the-art solutions for new, ambitious ideas.

ACHEMA Inspire: Do you have a particular R&D focus on green or recycling technologies? What are the main challenges in this area?

  • __Wintergerste: To develop application-specific solutions that can bring new processes and methodologies to life, we continuously invest in our R&D facilities, which are regularly upgraded. The main challenge for businesses interested in designing systems for renewable or recycled plastics is being able to offer commercially viable and competitive plants on an industrial scale. Establishing close collaboration with a project partner is extremely important to minimize any associated risk.

| Original version published in ACHEMA Inspire, June 2021. |


Richard Burton

Editor / World Show Media


Keywords in this article:

#recycling, #sustainability

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