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At K2013, Bayer shows how (green) dreams can come true

Leverkusen, Germany—"What really drives humanity?" asked Patrick Thomas, CEO Bayer MaterialScience at a recent conference in Leverkusen, Germany, before answering his own question: "It's dreaming."

Leverkusen, Germany—"What really drives humanity?" asked Patrick Thomas, CEO Bayer MaterialScience at a recent conference in Leverkusen, Germany, before answering his own question: "It's dreaming."

At BayerMaterialScience, they're not not afraid to dream. "That's what this year's K Show is about," said Thomas. "We want to show not only what has become of the dreams we dreamed three years ago, at K2010, but also what the new dreams are today, built around the three broad themes of safety, freedom, and happiness."

Three years ago, the idea of the Solar Impulse, the long-range solar powered aircraft project in which BayerMaterial Science is participating, flying across the United States was an inspired idea. "Today, that's exactly what this plane is doing," said Thomas, "and the dream is now to circumnavigate the world." He called the Solar Impulse a 'flying laboratory' to test ideas.

Bayer MaterialScience Patrick Thomas
Patrick Thomas, CEO of Bayer MaterialScience.

It is this mindset that has made 150-year-old company into the global brand it is today, but, having said that, Bayer knows the path to innovation is beset with challenges. "We're prepared for setbacks," he said. "Without failure, there's no gain. Failure in innovation is inevitability. But you have to keep dreaming. Dreams are what innovations are based on."

From dream reaction to dream production
Three years ago, a different dream was also in the making. This was the 'Dream Reaction' project, in which improved catalysts were being sought that would enable the use of CO2 as a raw material for the production of plastics, was well underway. "Today, that's exactly what we can do," Thomas said. "A pilot plant in Leverkusen has been producing polyols (a component of flexible polyurethane foam) from CO2 with the help of a special catalyst since early 2011."

The name of the follow-up project is 'Dream Production.' Production at the pilot plant was recently switched from batch to continuous mode. A commercial scale plant is scheduled to go into operation in 2015, and the polyols manufactured from CO2 are expected to hit the market that same year. They will initially be used in mattress production. They may also be used at a later stage in thermoplastic polyurethanes, coatings, and fibers.

According to Thomas, there are "a lot of sources of carbon out there, and it's time to stop thinking about CO2 in terms of waste, but as a feedstock. Methane as well."

"Today, Bayer is using the greenhouse gas CO2 to support a safe supply of raw materials," Thomas said. "But it's also got to be a sustainable business model. We've got to deliver on result in a business sense. Of the three Ps-people, planet and profit-profit is just as important as the other two."

Asked whether it was difficult to launch innovation in the kind of adverse economic situation the market is in today, Thomas was emphatically clear. "Customers are looking for more cost effective ways to compete and to differentiate themselves. One way to achieve this is by innovation. This is what they're looking for."

What about the risks associated with new products in a low-economic growth environment? "Well, those are not the people who come to K," said Thomas. "K visitors are looking for inspiration, for new ideas. And at our booth, we've created a communication area that aims to foster and stimulate the exchange of ideas; to invite visitors to share problems and create solutions and to encourage visitors to share our dreams with us."

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