"Europe is very far ahead in the Circular Economy!"

Interview with Martin Aeschlimann, General Manager Engineering Plastics at Asahi Kasei Europe GmbH

Martin Aeschlimann, General Manager Engineering Plastics at Asahi Kasei Europe GmbH
Martin Aeschlimann, General Manager Engineering Plastics at Asahi Kasei Europe GmbH

The Japanese global corporation Asahi Kasei, with over 50,000 employees, focuses on key innovations in its "Materials" division at its European branch in Düsseldorf, some of which also lead to new approaches for alternative drive technologies in the automotive segment. General Manager Martin Aeschlimann gave insights into the current developments in an interview with Wirtschaftsforum.

Economic Forum: Mr. Aeschlimann, as a global corporation with over 50,000 employees, Asahi Kasei engages in a wide variety of business fields – which of these are you responsible for in Europe?

Martin Aeschlimann: In addition to the Homes and Medical segments, the Materials sector forms the third major focus of the corporation; within this framework, I represent the field of Engineering Plastics at our location in Düsseldorf, where we concentrate on various materials. Thus, we are the only company worldwide that markets polyacetals both as copolymers and as homopolymers. Along with many other technical plastics, which are mainly used in new drive technologies in the automotive industry, we also produce numerous other special materials with various reinforcement materials and are also engaged in the field of transparent plastics, where we develop alternatives to PMMA.

Asahi Kasei Europe - The Concept Car AKXY 2
The Concept Car AKXY 2

Economic Forum: What is the main focus of your German subsidiary's activities?

Martin Aeschlimann: We focus very much on the automotive sector, as Europe continues to be a central hub in this segment and we, as a Japanese company, want to be as directly involved in the latest developments as possible. A core element of our daily business is, therefore, close market observation, to reflect current trends and innovations directly back to our headquarters in Japan. The grown expertise of Asahi Kasei, particularly in the further development of alternative drive technologies – especially in battery technology – provides important impulses: because all these approaches pose particularly great challenges to the materials used in their environment – and this is exactly one of our core competencies.

Economic Forum: Where can your company provide support in this area?

Martin Aeschlimann: Among other things, we produce specialty foams that are used in the environment of battery cells and in corresponding transport containers. Due to the extremely high energy density of these components, the topic of fire protection is of particular importance – after all, it must be ensured not only in the finished vehicle but also during internal transport between individual manufacturing steps, that the materials do not ignite, or that in the event of a fire, a runaway effect does not occur, in which the fire can spread rapidly. In addition, Asahi Kasei has committed itself to the consistent further development of the vehicle interior. At this point, the striking power of our group becomes particularly clear, which is mainly fed by the variety of topics we cover: Asahi Kasei also appears as a manufacturer of high-quality surface materials for car seats and the interior. From these content symbioses, among other things, our concept car AKXY 2 emerged, with which we presented an overarching vision for the future of mobility in 2022.

Asahi Kasei Europe - Round Cell Holders made of foamed mPPE
The round cell holders made of foamed mPPE exhibit important safety characteristics
Asahi Kasei Europe - Cooling Pipe from XYRON-mPPE
A Cooling Pipe from XYRON-mPPE
Asahi Kasei Europe - Cellulose Nanofibers
These Cellulose Nanofibers serve as a filler replacement for glass fibers

Economic Forum: In this context, sustainability also plays an important role – what contribution can Asahi Kasei make in this regard?

Martin Aeschlimann: Especially in this area, the current regulatory and market developments in Europe are markedly different than in other world regions. Thus, the European Union is currently bringing forth a comprehensive package of regulations with the End of Life Vehicle Regulation, which does not yet exist in Asia or North America in this form. Naturally, Asahi Kasei also wants to set significant accents for the circular economy and fully leverage its core competency in the plastics sector. In this course, for example, we are continuing the development of our Microwave-Recycling-Technology, which is still in the prototype stage. The goal is to decompose the polymers at the end of their life cycle back into monomers, i.e., the basic components of polyamide. The underlying chemical process is not new – but so far, it could only be carried out with a very high energy input since the plastic must be decomposed under very high pressure and at a very high temperature. Our technology performs a very localized heating and decomposing, which is significantly more energy-saving. Moreover, we are also working on so-called Cellulose Nanofibers Materials, which even have better application properties than fiberglass and are made from 100% natural substances. Thus, the grown innovation power of Asahi Kasei will bring forth further important developments, especially in the context of the Circular Economy, with which we want to actively shape our industries.

Brand Video "Creating for Tomorrow" (English subtitle) ―Asahi Kasei