07/01/2022 | Process Innovation

Interview with Torsten Wintergerste | Sulzer

With sustainability at the heart of manufacturing, new ideas and developments are being welcomed every day and it's only going to get better, says Torsten Wintergerste of Sulzer Chemtech.

For decades, Sulzer Chemtech has been driving the development and adoption of cutting-edge processing technologies for sustainable manufacturing. Thanks to its expertise, advanced product portfolio and technical capabilities, the company has been able to provide solutions to support changes in the industry, enable key market trends and meet customer demands. In a previous edition of this magazine, the company’s Division President Torsten Wintergerste described how their mass transfer technologies had helped to bring new thinking to the plastic manufacturing and processing sector. In a wideranging interview he spoke of how the transition to sustainability had affected operations and the ways in which the environmental, social, economic, and technological environments impact your company and affect customers. Last month, we caught up with each other again for an update and I was able to ask in particular how the company’s advanced processing technologies are helping to drive moves towards increased sustainability in the manufacturing and processing sector.

ACHEMA Inspire: Previously, you spoke of technologies and plants for the production of PLA bioplastics on a commercial scale. How far has that proceeded?

  • __Torsten Wintergerste: Polylactic acid (PLA) is an extremely promising material that can help address pollution by offering a recyclable, biodegradable and compostable alternative to conventional plastic that can be created using plant-based renewable resources. Given the role of this biopolymer within the manufacture of all our future-oriented, sustainable products and the growing market demand, Sulzer Chemtech has also been developing, fine-tuning and delivering mass transfer technologies to enable its creation for many years. We are at the forefront of processing equipment for PLA production. In effect, most – if not all – active manufacturing facilities for this bioplastic feature our equipment. In fact, I would say that our leading role in the industry is a result of our commitment to constantly invest in expanding our know-how and product offering with the aim of bringing the right technologies to businesses. As the bioplastic market is continuously evolving, Sulzer Chemtech itself is continuously developing its own pioneering solutions to meet the needs of customers and end-users.

    As our knowledge behind all the processing of PLA and other alternatives expands over time, the expertise of our teams is becoming more diverse and multidisciplinary. For example, we have an ever-growing body of life science specialists that is helping us to build an increasingly detailed overview of key processes involved in PLA production, such as fermentation.

ACHEMA Inspire: You also spoke of how you identified key trends to help develop innovative technologies. What would you identify as the current trends?

  • __Torsten Wintergerste: There is clearly a high demand for bio-based, renewable, recyclable as well as recycled materials that support a more sustainable, circular economy. We are seeing many of our existing customers and a growing number of new projects focused on the creation of innovative process plants to produce greener materials. For example, one area where I see a lot of interest is the recycling of textiles, which have been historically challenging to process and upcycle, as they often consist of a mix of cellulose and fibers. Companies across the entire textile value chain are now coming together to develop comprehensive solutions for the collection, sorting, separation and reuse of polycotton blends.

    A leading example is the Swiss Textile Recycling Ecosystem, a network comprising fabric and textile manufacturers, waste collectors and sorters, as well as retailers, brand owners and technology providers. All these parties are cooperating to make the sector circular and even more eco-conscious.

ACHEMA Inspire: Your reputation for providing sustainability in products is growing. How far along this journey would you estimate you are?

  • __Torsten Wintergerste: Sulzer Chemtech is at the forefront of green and recycling technologies for plastic manufacturing as well as processing, and we consider this an ongoing journey, as we are always working to further refine our solutions and expand the range of sustainable applications.

    After all, some of the projects we are currently supporting were probably beyond everyone's wildest dreams just a few years ago – and I think it's fair to say that they have now become a commercially-feasible reality! To develop advanced, application-specific solutions that can bring new processes and methodologies to life, we continuously invest in our R&D facilities, which are regularly upgraded. And we also invest heavily in our brilliant workforce.

    These are the driving forces behind our proven-track record of developing cutting-edge, reliable technologies. Examples of new technologies and processes that Sulzer Chemtech is currently offering include our latest solutions to support the production of polyethylene furanoate (PEF). This is widely considered to be the next generation of polyester polymers, and like PLA, it is recyclable and produced from sugars which are derived from plants. Furthermore, PEF also offers superior thermaland mechanical properties that make the material highly suitable for a wide range of applications.

ACHEMA Inspire: Taking a broader market view, and to give me a feeling of the industry at large, are customers reacting proactively to this?

  • __Torsten Wintergerste: While I would say that our company has always been proactive, proposing new sustainable technologies to customers and developing innovative processes, today the situation is partially inverted. What I mean is that we continue to look at how to support emerging trends and propose new, groundbreaking solutions to customers - but at

    the same time, the market is now demanding that manufacturers implement sustainable practices of their own.

    As a result, our customers are now asking Sulzer Chemtech for technologies to help them create brand new applications with practical and feasible industry-scale solutions. Ultimately, current market demands can be supported by the technological shift we started to implement years ago.

    A key priority for our customers, particularly when looking at technologies for sustainable processing, is the ability to offer high-quality products at competitive prices. This means that operational expenses should be minimised by reducing cycle times as well as consumables and energy usage. This is the reason why Sulzer Chemtech is leveraging its expertise to help businesses produce bio-based or recycled products at the same or a lower cost than that of conventional polymers.

ACHEMA Inspire: One further question: companies such as yours are accelerating the use of technology on many levels and I’m detecting many are benefiting from a younger tech-savvy workforce. How is yours adapting to that?

  • __Torsten Wintergerste: Sulzer Chemtech is rich with highly talented and committed people that support our growth by developing and advancing state-of- the-art solutions. Among our staff, we have a multitude of individuals that are recognised globally for their authority in different fields of research.

    Their capabilities and commitment are a true inspiration for us all and support the never-ending search for new ways that our technology-driven company can support customers. Moreover, we consider the continuous development of all our employees as an essential component in our strategy to drive the business even further forward. This is why we have a number of initiatives aimed at expanding within our in-house expertise. At the same time, we also have programs aimed at encouraging knowledge transfer and exchange throughout the organisation.

    This means that, as Sulzer Chemtech continues to grow and evolve, so does our pool of technical experts and the processing technologies that we can deliver to our customers.


Richard Burton

Editor / World Show Media


Keywords in this article:

#recycling, #sustainability

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