Clean Water from Saxony-Anhalt for the Whole World
Bitterfeld stands today for clean water – in view of the environmental damages caused by the chemical plants based here, this would not have gone through, not even as a bold vision three decades ago. However, this has become a reality thanks to LANXESS AG, a leading global company for specialty chemicals which has built a membrane filter production plant here.
In Bitterfeld, the facilities worth a 30-million euro investment produce special membranes ready-to-use filter elements under the trade name LEWABRANE. With these elements, it is possible to clean out salts, germs and unsolicited trace elements in using contaminated water by means of reverse osmosis. Through this way, organic contaminations in water are reduced to almost 90%. This technology is applied most of all in industry, for example in power plants necessitating absolutely highly purified process water. But the large-scale seawater desalination can also achieve good results at comparatively low cost with membrane filter elements which separate water molecules from salts while under pressure.
„With our technology and our products, we are able to contribute to the improvement of drinkable water supply worldwide“, says Dr. Carsten Schellenberg, Head of the research laboratory at the Bitterfeld-based membrane company LANXESS. The membrane filter elements of the LEWABRANE series that are produced in Bitterfeld are coiled up in multiple layers to form a spiral-shaped element. „Owing to the high degree of cross-linking of polymers and the small surface, there is a reduction of deposit“, explains Schellenberg. „The newly developed types are designed in such a way that more turbulence occurs on the inflow side and only very few particles can precipitate. Hence, viruses, bacteria or traces of pesticides are reliably filtered out with the help of membrane technology.“
Intensive research activities carried out especially with the Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation (IFF) in Magdeburg preceded the serial production. On behalf of LANXESS, the Fraunhofer experts planned and improved not only the processes in the new factory. „The reverse osmosis as filter technology has been known as a product from astronautics since the 60’es indeed, but it still needs a lot of development effort in its large-scale implementation“, says Sebastian Möser, Project manager at the IFF. The IFF has simulated the principle of a virtual factory with research models and subsequently put it together with the team from Bitterfeld into practice. „We have a highly efficient production facility that provide us competitive advantages“, says Schellenberg joyfully.
Together with the IFF and other partners from the scientific sector like the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg and the Fraunhofer Institute for Mechanics of Materials IWM in Halle, we have developed further inter alia the structure and the composition of the membrane.
„The continuous development of production processes and the technology itself will make sure that the fields of application of the membrane products steadily expand“, states the Head of the LANXESS Division of Liquid Purification Technologies, Jean-Marc Vesselle, with certainty. „Virtual engineering is an important element for us to always be one step ahead and to secure production at various sites in Germany for the long term“, continues Vesselle.
Besides, the process optimization undertaken together with Fraunhofer offered the possibility to test the processes with the collaborators beforehand and thereby increase the safety and quality for serial production. According to the LANXESS manager, the fact that the joint research project for membrane technology supported by the regional government of Saxony-Anhalt can use an outstanding scientific environment near Bitterfeld is a key location advantage that also played a role in the investment decision.
Around 150 people are employed at the membrane and module factory of LANXESS for water treatment in Bitterfeld. About one fifth of the staff work in the laboratories of research and applications engineering for membrane technology that are all part of the production facility.
The combination of production, research and applications engineering is indispensable for the specialty chemicals company today and will be in the future as well. „Here in Saxony-Anhalt with the said business functions at one site, we have an excellent situation with short ways from the idea via development through to production and we will contribute to success with innovative solutions in the future alike“, reassures Dr. Schellenberg.
„The current throughput of roughly 40 cubic meters of brackish water per element in one day – whereby many modules can also be optionally joined together – is for instance certainly not the end of development yet“, insists the Leipzig-born man who, after studying and taking his doctoral degree, already worked in Japan and Switzerland before starting in the Bitterfeld membrane plant LANXESS. Thus, we get closer to the solution of the ever increasing global issue of water shortage, especially as the necessary energy consumption is getting ever cheaper via solar technology, particularly in dry areas. „We are happy and proud that the membranes from Bitterfeld – barely two years after their market launch – are already improving the quality of life and making economic development possible in all regions of the world “, says Dr. Schellenberg.