January 25, 2021
Uwe Kannengiesser, Director Optics & Filaments, Evonik High Performance Polymers
EL&T interviewed Uwe Kannengiesser, Director Optics & Filaments, Evonik High Performance Polymers about the future of lenses made from TROGAMID®.
Q: Sustainability is a hugely important topic in 2020, and going forward – across sectors. Can you share your insights regarding this topic as a manufacturer of high-performance polyamides based in Germany?
A: Yes indeed, the topic of sustainability is one of the hottest and most talked about items in our target markets, which are very close to the end consumer. Here we are talking about consumer goods and sports and optical products. Sustainability is a multidimensional, and for the most part a holistic approach. Our customers do not follow just one single favourite sustainability solution for their brands. They are looking and trying to implement polymers based on recycled materials or from renewable resources, or materials and processes reducing the carbon footprint. This trend is not new for Evonik and looking back into our company history, we started years ago with sustainable concepts such as Copolyamides. Overall the key question in this market is: How much performance I am willing to sacrifice for how much sustainability? This question does not have a bearing on our TROGAMID® eCO customers. With this material, customers do not have to limit their requirements in the performance of a product. TROGAMID® myCX eCO is a sustainable upgrade of the well-known product TROGAMID myCX high flow for frames and premium lenses.
Q: Can you explain the process of developing the new TROGAMID® eCO: a sustainable, high-performance crystal-clear polyamide?
A: For high quality lenses the use of recycled materials is not in our view a suitable option. Also, the way to use building blocks based on renewable resources for our transparent high-performance polymer was not an option due to the quality level that does not fit the level we require. If we look at all aspects of sustainability along the value chain, the shipping of these building blocks around the world is not saving CO2 emissions! Our target was to find a concept to set up TROGAMID® myCX in a sustainable way and fulfill all the quality needs of our customers. Therefore, we decided for the option to use a building block that is produced by biomass and fits the same quality requirements as the petrochemical source. In addition, we produce the polymer by using 100 percent renewable energy. The result is a high-performance transparent polyamide with a 50 percent lower carbon footprint.
Q: What does the resulting material offer? What are its key properties?
A: The resulting TROGAMID® myCX eCO offers the same characteristics as the well-known members of the TROGAMID® myCX family. Its micro-crystallinity stands for high chemical resistance and high mechanical performance. These attributes are highly appreciated in the market and make the crystal clear TROGAMID® to the universal fit material for lenses to all kind of frames. The eCO grade adds the sustainability features such as 40% biocontent, 50% reduction of CO2 and finally 100% use of “green energy”. Our customers benefit from the use of an already well-known and reliable material because the basic chemistry has not changed. They can process it in the same way as the petro-based grade and yield an identical high-quality product.
Q: I understand that Evonik has been addressing issues of sustainability as a company since 2007. Can you give some details about this development and focus in the last 13 years?
A: Evonik became a member of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development in 2002 and published its first environmental report in 2007. Sustainability was continuously integrated into the Group strategy until the adoption of the Evonik sustainability strategy 2020+ in 2019, which focuses on climate, water and portfolio management. Around 50 % of the sales generated by our chemical segments come from products that make a measurable contribution to improving the resource efficiency of their applications. These are two examples that concern plastics. First we have developed high-quality polyamides made from renewable raw materials, and secondly, we have focused on reducing the carbon footprint, even though the plastic is based on petrochemicals.
Q: What sustainable goals does the company have going forward? Please give details about the sustainability strategy you have put in place.
A: Evonik’s Sustainability Strategy 2020+ is committed to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change & Environmental targets. Since we achieved our target for the reduction in specific greenhouse gas emissions ahead of schedule, the executive board introduced new environmental targets in February 2019. Our target now is a 50 percent reduction in absolute emissions by 2025, compared with the level in 2008. We have set a measurable target for the development of our global energy consumption. It calls for reducing the absolute energy consumption (kilowatt hours) and the specific energy consumption (kilowatt hour per metric ton of product) of the Group by 5 %, respectively - compared to the base year 2020 - by 2025. A key element in achieving these goals is the replacement of the last coal-fired power plant at Evonik's largest site with two combined-cycle gas and steam turbine power plants. Furthermore, Evonik focuses on growth engines with high sustainability benefits. For this reason, our experts implement sustainability analyses according to new methods.
Q: How can such goals improve sustainability in optics?
A: With this method, we can easily calculate the carbon footprint or even the complete LCA data. This allows us to predict the benefits for our customers in respect of sustainability at an early stage of development. In addition to this we support our customers with workshops to identify the reduction of scarp and energy use and the reuse of scrap.
Q: Finally, as this difficult year of huge disruption with the global pandemic draws to an end, where does Evonik as a company place its focus for the months ahead? Do you have special plans or new projects coming in 2021?
A: We are all looking for a positive outlook in the next months and hopefully the optical market will recover to its market volume of 2019 quickly. The focus is of course to follow and monitor the way of TROGAMID® myCX eCO in the optical market. But we are also continuing to develop the market for our bio-based polyamides VESTAMID® Terra. In addition, we are in the process of introducing a flexible polyamide foam – a so called PEBA foam - with outstanding rebounding that can make products up to 90 % lighter, to name just a few from the lifestyle sector.