Dr. Christian Hartel, WACKER’s President & CEO
WACKER held a grand ceremony on October 11 to celebrate its 30th anniversary in China. At present, China has become the largest single market for WACKER and in 2022, the sales of WACKER China accounted for about one third of the Group's total sales. Recently, Dr. Christian Hartel, President and CEO of WACKER, who visited China to attend the ceremony, stated in an interview with China Chemical Reporter (CCR) that China is a very important market for WACKER, and WACKER will continue to seek opportunities in downstream fields such as new-energy vehicles, smart construction, as well as nutrition and biotechnology in China.
CCR：Hello Dr. Hartel, welcome to China! How do you think the role of China's market to WACKER?
Hartel: We have been in China for 30 years. China is very important for us. It’s the largest single market for us with about one third of the Group sales generating from here.
And also for me, it was the 4th time since the last 12 months that I’ve been in China. I was honored to have the privilege to go with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in November to Beijing. Then in the beginning of the year, I attended the China Development Forum. In May we had inauguration of our new joint venture in Shandong and now 30 years celebration here. China is important for us and very important for me.
We have a clear investment strategy “in China, for China” and that worked out very well. We have a miraculous growth in the past 30 years in China. And I’m very optimistic about the future. In May we completed capacity expansion for dispersions and powders in Nanjing. With a new reactor for dispersions and a new spray dryer for dispersible polymer powders, the two new plants are the largest of their kind in the world. We also announced to expand our capacities in Zhangjiagang for specialty silicones. In terms of investment scale, Nanjing was about 100 million dollars, Zhangjiagang about 150 million euros. They are really for sustainable development like new electric vehicles and smart construction.
The Zhangjiagang site is WACKER’s largest production site in China. A variety of downstream silicone products are manufactured here, including sealants, elastomers, emulsions, fluids and pyrogenic silica.
CCR：So what kind of opportunities in the downstream industries has WACKER noticed in the Chinese market?
Hartel: I think the Chinese policy is very clear on upgrading the economy going more into high-tech applications. And for us, just to give a few examples, the new-energy vehicle is a great opportunity because you need more silicones in the battery, cables, electric engine, the big displays, etc. And therefore, we appreciate that the Chinese government is focusing on these segments to grow. Also, China has the biggest NEV market in the world. That’s why we have our global electric vehicle competence R&D center here in Shanghai.
Another example would be around the area of our polymers. We also see a clear trend of the construction industry to upgrade the quality of the building and to have more sustainable buildings in China. And also here with our products, it's a big opportunity for us. Here’s one interesting example: if you have a tile, you need a mixture of cement, water, sand. You mix it, put it on the wall and then put on your tile. If you use our polymer powder, you can scale down the amount of water you need to just about 20 percent of it. So you save a lot of cement, water and sand, and the performance is better as well.
CCR: Now all the countries in the world are pushing energy transition, and China also proposed the dual carbon goals. What opportunities would the chemical industry get under this background? How would WACKER make good use of these opportunities?
Hartel: First, we really appreciate that the Chinese government is setting these targets because I think fighting climate change is a global challenge and can only be managed globally together.
If you talk about how to achieve the targets and how to lower CO2 footprint，I think there are certain technologies absolutely essential, including renewable energy where our polysilicon plays an important role, the trend of electric vehicles going away from the combustion engine to an electric car, as well as smart buildings---buildings with less resources and better insulation. The housing sector is a very big segment of CO2 emissions today. So therefore, going to carbon neutrality is a huge opportunity for the chemical industry because we provide all the necessary materials to achieve this goal.
But it's also important that we do our homework for our way to carbon neutrality, and we set ourselves very ambitious targets. We want to reduce absolute greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent till 2030, and to achieve Net Zero by 2045. And I'm very convinced that we will achieve these targets.
In China, we try to change our energy sources in Nanjing or in Zhangjiagang towards green energy. And therefore, we can also support the Chinese path to carbon neutrality.
CCR: Now we know that the global chemistry industry in general is faced with many challenges such as the excessive capacity, the flat demand, and the fluctuation of the prices. So how does WACKER cope with these challenges?
Hartel: Not only in this year, but also in recent years, there have been a lot of challenges for the chemical industry, such as raw material availability, cost, logistics and increasing trade barriers. So what's the answer？
First, you must do your homework. You need to look on optimizing the cost and be better on efficiency. But despite all the challenges, what's most important is that you should have the right products for tomorrow. Again, this is a lot about sustainability, and you need to have the right people that work for the company. I'm very proud to say that in China, we have now about 1,700 employees, and they are very motivated, smart, and engaged.
I always say it takes spirit, speed, and confidence to be successful. And that's what we have here at WACKER in general, combined with a strong financial background, which I think is also very important. If you are financially stable, it's easier if there's a storm on the horizon and to sail through this storm. So that's the combination to help us tackle challenges: right products, the best people, financial stability.
CCR: Just now you mentioned many business opportunities in China. So, what are the key areas WACKER will plan for the Chinese market?
Hartel: For the chemical industry, there are many different sectors which are interesting and fascinating for WACKER. At the moment, especially on the focus for China, it would be definitely the new-energy vehicles. Smart construction is a fascinating area as well, along with renewable energies like PV where we see a lot of development, nutrition and biotech, also a field where we are active. Cosmetics is another one where we also have a competence center here in China where we focus on. So you see we are very excited about the Chinese market.