"It is precisely the possibility of realising a dream that makes life interesting." Bayer MaterialScience’s appearance at K 2013 in Düsseldorf, the world’s largest plastics trade fair, is much in keeping with these words from Brazilian author Paulo Coelho. Under the motto ‘Sharing Dreams, Sharing Value – Be Part Of It’, the company wants to talk with visitors about dreams – and make them come true with the help of innovative material solutions, while creating value in the process.
"In its 150-year history, the inventor company Bayer has made many valuable contributions to improving people’s lives," said Patrick Thomas, Chairman of the Board of Bayer MaterialScience, at an international press conference in Leverkusen.
The dream of flight is as old as humanity itself
People have always dreamed of leaving the ground and flying around free as a bird. From this evolved wishes and, finally, ideas of how the dream could become reality. Leonardo da Vinci sketched a realistic model of a rotor on his drawing table centuries ago. It was primarily clever material developments on top of these masterpieces of engineering that ultimately led to the design of the helicopter.
Today looking down on the clouds has lost much of its fascination. Passengers in aeroplanes simply want to cover large distances as quickly as possible. But this means of travel comes at a price: consumption of large amounts of fuel and a lot of noise. Nowadays people dream of unlimited flight without fuel or noise pollution. Here, too, wishes lead to ideas of how to make the dream come true.
Across the USA – on solar energy alone
Aviation pioneer Bertrand Piccard, for example, is fascinated with the idea of an aircraft powered entirely by solar energy. His Solar Impulse project has already made tremendous progress. The current prototype of the solar aircraft developed as part of this is presently on its longest flight to date. It spans the United Sates – from San Francisco to New York. The penultimate stage just concluded with a successful landing in Washington. The first solar-powered flight all the way around the world is scheduled for 2015 in an even lighter aircraft.
Bayer MaterialScience is an official partner of the project and has been hard at work from the very beginning on solutions in collaboration with other partners. "With innovative material developments, we are promoting the dream of unlimited mobility using only energy from renewable sources," said Patrick Thomas. "This is yet another example illustrating our company’s mission, ‘Bayer: Science For A Better Life’."
One example is a microcellular, rigid polyurethane foam based on the Baytherm® Microcell system. The ultra-lightweight material is used in the solar aircraft to very effectively insulate the cabin against the icy or hot environs. It comes as no surprise then that refrigeration equipment manufacturers are also very interested in the product, for an optimally insulated refrigerator reduces energy consumption and thus saves costs. "Others can therefore also benefit from this development," added the CEO.
A greenhouse gas as a chemical raw material
It would also be a dream if the surplus carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas, in the atmosphere could be used for synthesis purposes, for example. It, therefore, comes as no surprise that a joint and well-advanced project of Bayer MaterialScience, the CAT Catalytic Center of RWTH Aachen University and the utility company RWE bears the name ‘Dream Production’.
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. Production was recently switched from batch to continuous mode.
Polyols manufactured from CO2 are expected to hit the market in 2015 and will initially be used in mattress production. They could later also be used for the production of thermoplastic polyurethanes and then coatings and fibres. "Bayer is using the greenhouse gas CO2 to support a safe supply of raw materials," said Thomas.
Robotic aids for renewed mobility
Life expectancy is rising worldwide. However, many older and sick people find it difficult to get around the environs they know without the help of others. In Japan, robotic technologies have been used for years to assist infirm people, enabling them to enjoy a happy life again. The HAL® exoskeleton from Cyberdyne is already being used successfully in rehabilitation applications. It is also being used in Japan’s damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant.
Bayer MaterialScience collaborates with Cyberdyne and its founder and CEO, Prof Yoshiyuki Sankai, in the development of high-tech materials. Both companies are looking for additional potential applications for the robot suits and, last year, conducted an international design competition. Many promising developments by various designers demonstrate that there may be opportunities for the technology in areas besides health and caregiving applications, such as sports and recreation and physical labor.