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Webinar with Evonik deputy chairman


The ECCT was invited to join a joint regional European chamber webinar featuring guest speaker Harald Schwager, Deputy Chairman of the Executive Board of Evonik Industries. The online event was arranged by European Chamber of Commerce in Korea (ECCK) as the latest instalment of its webinar series on the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in which global executives share their companies' insights and efforts to contribute to the SDGs. In addition to its own membership, ECCK opened the webinar series to all members of the European Business Organisation Worldwide Network (EBOWWN), which includes the ECCT.

In his presentation, the speaker gave an introduction to his company and how it is contributing to reaching SDGs. As one of the world's leading producers of specialty chemicals, Evonik is not a major producer of end products, but its materials are important components that improve the quality and sustainability of a variety of products ranging from tyres to mattresses, medications, and animal feeds. Schwager began by saying that sustainability aspects are now integrated into the company's strategic planning and investment decisions. Improving the efficiency of production and resource management and continuous improvement in reporting are a core part of the process.

According to Schwager, 35% of the company's sales come from so-called “next generation solutions”, which make a positive contribution to sustainability and the company is gradually increasing this percentage, by around 3% per annum.

He went on to cite examples of products and solutions that are contributing to SDG goals. Evonik manufactures specialty lipids which are essential for mRNA-based Covid-19 vaccines. The company has formed a strategic partnership with vaccine manufacturer BioNTech, thus making an important contribution to increasing the supply security of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Evonik is a leader in the development of lipid nanoparticles, which are the gold standard for mRNA delivery. Currently, the only established process for transporting mRNA vaccines into the human cell is encapsulation by means of lipid nanoparticles (LNP). Without this protection, the mRNA with the blueprint for stimulating the immune system could not reach the right site of action in the body. Within seconds it would degrade in the bloodstream and make the vaccine ineffective. Using a similar approach, there is potential for the development of other innovative vaccines against influenza, malaria or HIV, promising approaches for cancer immunotherapy, and the treatment of hereditary diseases or defective genes.

Another of Evonik's aims is to turn salmon into vegetarians. According to Schwager, currently around 70% of global fishing catch is used to feed other fish. Evonik scientists' long-term intention is to turn salmon, shrimp, and other marine animals into vegetarians by replacing the fishmeal and fish oil produced from wild-caught fish that is used in feeds. Evonik is one of the world's leading providers of amino acids and amino-acid derivatives for modern animal nutrition and has developed an alternative fish feed by fermenting algal oil from algae to provide omega 3 fatty acids. According to Schwager, using this sustainable solution would save some 1.2 million tonnes of wild caught fish, which would help to preserve fish stocks and marine ecosystems.

In its Rheticus project, Evonik is working with Siemens Energy to develop an efficient and powerful test plant that will use carbon dioxide (CO2) and water as well as electricity from renewable sources and bacteria to produce specialty chemicals. The process mimics photosynthesis. In a first step, carbon dioxide and water are converted into carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen in electrolysers with the aid of electricity. Special microorganisms then convert the CO in the gases synthesized in this way into chemicals. The same technology can be used to produce skin care products.

Evonik is also active in working to increase circular plastics through a global programme. As part of the transition to a circular economy, the company offers its customers solutions for all stages in the polymer value chain. Additives and technologies from Evonik make mechanical and chemical recycling more efficient, thus improving the availability of circular plastics. Evonik is also increasing the use of sustainable raw materials from circular sources in its own production processes.

In the Q&A session, Schwager pointed out that the circular economy needs local collection and processing of recyclable materials rather than huge economies of scale. This means that regional, national, and local solutions will be needed, depending on conditions on the ground.