We need to talk
These four often-dreaded words are used here not to end a relationship, but to invite new partnerships and the strengthening of collaboration.
Anna Pougin, head of the Innovation Domain Materials for Hydrogen Infrastructure, shares her thoughts about how collaboration between machinery and specialty chemicals solutions can bring much needed change.
I headlined this article with four often-dreaded words not to end a relationship, but to invite new partnerships and the strengthening of collaboration. Why? Because the enabling technologies with the potential to be catalysts of much needed change, will only become reality through the interplay between machinery and specialty chemicals solutions. So, yes, chemists and engineers need to get together and talk, because when they do, great things can happen. Take wind turbines for example. Siemens Gamesa is currently testing some of the largest wind turbines in northern Denmark. The math here is simple: Bigger is better. The larger a rotor and its sweep, the cleaner the energy the turbine generates. With great height, however, come significant natural stresses. Stresses, the turbines can only withstand if they are made of strong stuff. Which is to say highly sophisticated materials. And this is where engineering and specialty chemistry form a perfect partnership. The Siemens Gamesa turbines blades are impregnated with a resin and utilize silicon dioxide particles for extended service life – both developed by Evonik. A structural foam by Evonik contributes to weight-saving design and an Evonik protective coating safeguards the rotor blades from damage. When it goes into operation in 2024, the wind turbine from Siemens Gamesa in Østerild will have a capacity of 14 megawatts and will even be able to achieve a peak performance of 15 MW – performance data that was unthinkable just a few years ago.
These are exactly the kind of large-scale solutions we need to mitigate climate change, a few drops in the ocean here and there will simply not be enough. And the wind turbine is just one example where chemistry enables innovative engineering.
So, while the chemical industry is part of the problem and needs to become more sustainable it is also part of the solution. Our footprint matters, but so does our handprint. Most people are familiar with the concept of an ecological footprint, which describes the environmental impacts attributable to an individual, company, economic sector and so on. The handprint is a complementary idea that emphasizes positive impacts of these entities. To make a reaction run at lower energy expense and towards the desired product, you use a catalyst. To make guide molecules in a deblending procedure, you use a membrane. To conduct hydroxide ions in an electrolyzer, again you use a membrane. To protect steel from hydrogen-embrittlement you use a polymeric protection layer. All these factors contribute to our handprint.
The same is true for our solutions for the hydrogen economy. Along the value chain the chemistry includes catalysts, membranes, as well as high-performance materials and additives. Again, we are just a part of the greater whole. In order to achieve our goal and become climate neutral by 2040 we will need green hydrogen as a clean energy source to power the production of our various enablers which, of course, are a prerequisite to making the renewable technologies possible.
So, please don’t be afraid when I say “we need to talk” but come and talk to me!