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Home > News > Chemicals

CEO Dialogues: Wanhua Chemical innovates for win-win sustainability

Source:Adsale Plastics Network Date :2024-04-23 Editor :VC
Copyright: This article was originally written/edited by Adsale Plastics Network (AdsaleCPRJ.com), republishing and excerpting are not allowed without permission. For any copyright infringement, we will pursue legal liability in accordance with the law.

The plastics industry continues to present a range of opportunities. Two significant avenues are the growing demand for sustainable materials and the continuous transition to smart manufacturing. Industries like new energy, automotive, and medical rely on advanced plastics and efficient processing to develop. Emerging regional markets have also opened doors for expansion of companies.


Rita Chu, Vice Chairman of Adsale Group, talked to Dr. Weiqi Hua, Executive Vice President at Wanhua Chemical, on the latest market and technology trends, as well as the company’s strategic planning.


Rita Chu_250.jpg

Rita Chu, Vice Chairman of the Adsale Group


Rita Chu pursued her studies at Northwestern University in the US, as well as London School of Economics in the UK. A certified accountant, she joined the Adsale Group in 2010 and became the Vice Chairman of the Group in 2019.


Wanhua_VP_1_250.jpg

Dr. Weiqi Hua, Execative Vice President, Wanhua Chemical


Dr. Weiqi Hua is the Executive Vice President of Wanhua Chemical and the Director of the Wanhua Chemical Research Institute. With a focus on engineering technology applications, he has dedicated his career to advancing technological innovations in high-end chemicals and new materials.


Since joining Wanhua Chemical in 2001, Dr. Hua has spearheaded and contributed to numerous national technological research projects, driving the advancement of MDI technology and achieving significant milestones such as the development of ADI and MDI waste brine recycling. He holds more than 60 domestic and international invention patents. Dr. Hua received his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Zhejiang University.


Wanhua Chemical Group Co., Ltd.


Wanhua Chemical is among the global leading suppliers of innovative chemical products, with business covers polyurethanes, petrochemicals, performance chemicals and emerging materials. 


In 2023, Wanhua Chemical ranked as the 18th largest chemical company in the world. The Group runs ten production bases and six research centers around the world. Adhere to technological innovation, the Group developed 11 world-first technologies and owns more than 6,200 invention patents. (Booth: 7.2C41)


Wanhua’s journey to zero carbon


Chu: Carbon reduction, degradation, recycling, and sustainability are some of the buzzwords in the plastics and rubber industries now. According to the Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) strategy released by Wanhua, the Group plans to achieve peak CO2 emissions by 2030 and strives to achieve carbon neutrality by 2048. What specific actions has Wanhua taken to reach these goals?


Hua: We always adhere to the Group’s mission of “Advancing Chemistry. Transforming Lives”. As a responsible company, we have been contributing to the sustainable development. In the area of carbon reduction, we have mapped out various pathways to achieve the dual-carbon goal and have invested a lot of money and effort in R&D.


We have three strategic pillars, clean electricity transformation , low carbon energy adaption, and innovative decarbonization technologies. This is due to the fact that at the Group, electricity is the largest source of CO2 emissions, and we also use a lot of heating energy. At the same time, we are capable to develop innovative technologies such as heat integration and recycling to improve the energy efficiency of our production.


Clean electricity transformation refers to reducing carbon emissions by strengthening carbon footprint management from the source and continuously optimizing energy structure. Our goal for zero-carbon power is to reach more than 50% clean power at all domestic production sites by 2030 and have full clean power coverage by 2035. Therefore, we planned in advance in the sectors of clean energy such as wind power, photovoltaic (PV) and nuclear power, promoting clean energy in the society through joint ventures and cooperation.


Let me cite a few examples. The 310MWp offshore wind power project Wanhua and CHN Energy invested in Fujian reduces CO2 emissions by 0.8-1 million tons per year.


Regarding PV, the agricultural-PV complementary power plant project invested by Wanhua in Zhaoyuan, Yantai, Shandong Province was completed and put into operation, generating a total of 170 million kWh; the Group has also invested in a fishery-PV complementary power plant project. These projects optimize the existing space for agriculture and fishery to build PV power plants, integrating PV with agriculture and fishery can reduce carbon emissions while creating benefits for the society.


Wanhua_1_480.jpg

Wanhua Chemical has invested in a number of projects in wind power, PV, nuclear power and other clean energy sectors.


Chu: What are the projects involved in low carbon energy adaption and innovative decarbonization energies ?


Hua: With regard to the decarbonization of energy, we are committed to reducing carbon emissions from energy use and production processes. We are adjusting our energy structure and promoting the application of energy-saving technologies. We reduce carbon emissions by switching from steam to electricity in our production facilities. 


The heat generated from chemical productions can be an alternative to steam as energy source for productions, which will be significantly meaningful if we can find a way to utilize the exhaust heat, for energy-saving and carbon reduction purposes.


Taking Wanhua-Hehai project as an example, we adopt the world’s pioneering intelligent heat integration technology to recover and reuse the low-temperature heat generated from chemical productions, and process it into high-grade thermal energy at low cost to provide alternative energy for production.


Meanwhile, some part of the recycled heat is aggregated to the municipal heating network through energy integration stations in the industrial park, so that tens of thousands families can have access to clean energy. This system has been put into operation, providing 10 million square meters of clean heat to the Huang-Bohai New Area in Yantai and benefiting more than 100,000 households. When the project is fully accomplished, this tech-intensive project will save about 2.6 million tons of coal, reduce CO2 emissions by 6.7 million tons, and save more than 10 million cubic meters of water per year.


I think this is a prime example of the perfect combination of industrial production and civilian use.


As for innovative decarbonization technologies, Wanhua is committed to reducing carbon footprint of production processes. Wanhua’s 7th generation core technology of methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI) has many innovations for environmental protection and energy saving. 


One of the innovations is the MDI waste brine recycling technology, which efficiently recycles the collected highly concentrated amine-containing waste water from the by-products of MDI. With this technology, about 3 million tons of brine effluents and 140,000 tons of carbon emissions can be reduced per year.


Another innovation is the hydrogen chloride (HCl) recycling technology, which uses HCl, a by-product of MDI plant, as raw material and oxidizes it to obtain high-purity chlorine gas that can be reused in MDI production. Compared with the conventional ion membrane electrolysis process, this new technology saves 710 million kWh and reduces CO2 emissions by about 700,000 tons per year.


Wanhua_2_480.jpg

Wanhua Chemical’s latest MDI technology offers environmental and energy-saving advantages.

Innovations in PA12 and POE


Chu: From the three strategies that mentioned, I think Wanhua has achieved a win-win situation for both the industry and the environment, creating added value while reducing carbon emissions. Given that Wanhua has developed so many innovative technologies, the Group’s investment in R&D must be paramount.


Hua: Wanhua’s investment in R&D is relatively high among its peers. Wanhua has established an integrated global research center at its headquarters in Yantai, with more than 4,000 researchers carrying out researches on molecular structure synthesis, engineering design and construction, as well as end-product applications, to achieve internal research integration.


In addition, the Group has six product application development centers around the world, including the US and Hungary. We also established a technical center in Barcelona, Spain.


Chu: What are some of Wanhua’s other representative innovative technological advancements?


Hua: We have invested heavily in the development of our PA12 products, and successfully developed a unique green synthesis technology in addition to multiple production breakthroughs. When compared with conventional synthesis methods, our new technology produces only about 1/3 of carbon footprint and other by-products.


In addition, Wanhua spent many years on researching polyolefin elastomer (POE), conducted in-depth research on core processes, and has overcome the major technical pain points. We are now able to mass produce POE for PV films, which will boost technological innovation and industrial upgrading in the polymer materials and PV sectors.


AI the game changer for chemicals R&D 


Chu: Do you think artificial intelligence (AI) will revolutionize chemicals R&D and production? Does Wanhua have AI-related projects and plans?


Hua: I think AI frees people from mental labor. In the future, as long as there is a relatively well-developed system of knowledge and it does not require highly emotional intervention, jobs would be done by AI, including scientific research and chemical plant operations, which can reduce human errors and improve efficiency.


Wanhua is actively using a series of digital resources, for example big data, to do some relatively complex R&D including catalysts, cathode and anode materials of next-generation batteries, interface structures, etc. We are building some autonomous learning models based on the relationship between algorithms and rules.


Our next plan is to develop a large model with an intelligent Q&A system dedicated to the field of materials, aiming to serve external customers as well as improve internal R&D efficiency.


Opportunities and challenges: Focus on key areas


Chu: I’m looking forward to this open platform, which certainly will bring great impact to the industry. I think some people are a bit confused about the current market situation. How do you see the market outlook in 2024?


Hua: In the course of social development, there are phases showing an excess of old technologies while new technologies are not ready. Therefore, opportunities often come up after crises. 

We believe that with human’s persistent pursuit of better lives, coupled with technological advancements, people have the wisdom to cope with these temporary difficulties.


Chu: What strategies is Wanhua adopting to capitalize the market changes?


Hua: As the market demand for sustainable development continues to rise, there will be an increasing application of low-carbon, environmentally friendly and high-quality materials. Wanhua will continue to focus on major sectors that are most important to social development.


In the energy and transportation sectors, Wanhua will continue to develop raw material solutions for wind power, PV, power transmission, and battery equipment. For healthcare and medical sectors, with personalized requirements increasing across niche segments, we will launch medical-grade TPU, PC, PVC and other material solutions, as well as develop a safe and resilient industry chain. 


At the same time, we will also introduce a series of high-performance elastomer materials, such as PA12 elastomer, POE, TPU, which can be widely used in shoes, outdoor jackets, sports bracelets, among others.


Strengthen overseas presence and supply stability


Chu: How does Wanhua explore the overseas markets?


Hua: Overseas markets are very important to Wanhua, and we are capable to supply globally. We do our best to optimize our warehousing and logistics capabilities, as well as our global supply chain configuration. We build local shore tanks and warehouses in multiple locations around the world to enhance the stability and flexibility of supply.


Wanhua’s largest overseas base is in Hungary, which covers about four square kilometers and has been operating very well. At the same time, we are planning to build some new bases in Southeast Asia and other regions.


I believe customers are business partners on the one hand, and good teachers on the other, as many of customers’ needs are important references for our next investment direction.


Chu: Absolutely. Lastly, would you introduce the highlights of Wanhua’s presence at CHINAPLAS 2024?


Hua: Wanhua’s booth at CHINAPLAS 2024 presents three thematic display areas, namely New City, Interconnected City and Sustainable Life, echoing the Group’s mission of “Advancing Chemistry. Transforming Lives”.


In the New Energy area, we present a bundle of green solutions for PV, battery and automotive applications. The highlight here is our POE materials. 


Urban communication, pipes and cables, and agriculture are pivotal to the rapid development of cities. The Interconnected City area of the booth showcases high-quality and highly efficient solutions for these applications. 


As people are more concerned about improving quality of life, Wanhua presents solutions for medical, sports and consumption applications in the Sustainable Life area. 


All in all, we are looking forward to meeting with our partners and customers. Let’s shape the future of the plastics and rubber industries together!


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Chemical raw material
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