A Basis for Success - Wacker Chemie AG


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A Basis for Success

Power and salt. These are the building blocks of working life, or at least they are for doctor of chemistry Guido Kallinger, who is the specialist in charge of the basic chemicals unit at WACKER’s Burghausen site with its 86 employees.

Dr. Guido Kallinger (at the front) with the team in the membrane electrolysis facility.

It all began with a skiing trip. Guido Kallinger was about 12 or 13 years old when his parents took him for a drive into the mountains for the weekend. The family lived in Straubing and so had to drive past a large industrial complex in Burghausen along the way. Guido was fascinated by the huge chemical plants. “That was the trigger,” he says today, “from that moment on I began to develop an interest in chemistry.” He would later go on to study in Munich and after graduating began applying for jobs. “By sheer coincidence” he ended up working in the same chemical plant that had inspired his curiosity when he was younger.

After several years as laboratory manager, today Guido Kallinger and his team are responsible for the production of base chemicals. “We supply almost every department on the site,” explains the 47-year-old, “if we were to stop production, all operations would come to a standstill – even the CCGT plant (combined cycle gas turbine).” The materials which are so important for WACKER are formed by processing rock salt using what is called membrane electrolysis. During this process, electrical current flows through a salt solution causing a chemical reaction that produces the base chemicals chlorine and hydrogen, from which, in turn, hydrogen chloride is obtained. Sodium hydroxide is produced as a byproduct.

“With the exception of polymers, almost all WACKER products are based on hydrogen chloride or HCl,” says Guido Kallinger, “however, only the intermediate stages ever contain any chlorine – the final stages are almost always free from chlorine. Every chlorine atom in our integrated production is used up to sixteen times before leaving the plant, normally as salt in the wastewater.” Integrated production means: Byproducts and waste products are not simply disposed of but used to manufacture other products. This often results in material loops which dramatically reduce energy and raw material consumption. The downside according to Guido Kallinger? “If you want to change something fundamental in the integrated production system, it can get extremely complicated.” That's why the team must not only keep an eye on their own plants but also keep up-to-date on every other new project planned at the site.

On the roof of the HCl synthesis plant: Dr. Guido Kallinger with the sun setting over the north of the WACKER plant in Burghausen.

Guido Kallinger meets with his management team every morning at 8 to discuss the daily routine. The critical questions that crop up typically include: “Do we have enough salt from our mine in Stetten? And do we have enough power? What's the situation with our buyers?” Every day a goods train filled with rock salt arrives in Burghausen. Shift workers open the hatches of the freight cars and load the salt onto a conveyor belt transporting it for preliminary cleaning. “Unloading the freight cars is the only laborious manual work,” explains Kallinger. In fact, the chlorine electrolysis and HCl synthesis plants run completely automatically. Employees in the control room monitor the plants 24 hours a day and control all functions using a computer – valves have not been opened manually for a long time; now all it takes is the click of a mouse. The role of shift workers has also changed dramatically over the years: They make regular inspection rounds through the plants and take laboratory samples.

Kallinger is particularly proud of developing hyperpure hydrogen chloride, which is needed in the electronics industry, “For a long time this was just a niche product,” he says, “but in the last few years demand has risen sharply. The good thing is that we did everything ourselves – conception, plant engineering and marketing, which is all very satisfying.”

Guido Kallinger, himself a family man, also particularly enjoys getting the opportunity to work with children. Together with kindergarten children he mixes solutions which change color with each new droplet from the pipette. He also gives lectures for the Children's University at the local adult education center with his friend and colleague Dr. Christian Finger. At the Burghausen schools’ Creative Day he leads experiments where, for example, the children can produce ice from liquid nitrogen. “These little experiments are important,” says Kallinger, “because children need to get excited about chemistry,” – just as was the case for him when he drove past the chemical plant in Burghausen for the first time all those years ago.