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.