Turning the idea into a factory
Tradition of innovation. Hardly another Evonik site captures this spirit as does the factory in Wesseling on the Rhine. Even though the history of the site goes back to 1880, its founder’s vision was modern and innovative. Heinrich Zimmermann, a chemist, had an idea for recycling that laid the foundation for the industrial site as it is today.
Zimmermann had developed a process which made possible the manufacture of cyanide salts, such as potassium ferro cyanide, from the residuals of the coal gas production. Coal gas was used for street lighting, for example. In order to achieve industrial exploitation of his new process, Heinrich Zimmermann looked for land on which to build a factory and found it in Wesseling, which lies between Cologne and Bonn on the Rhine. In 1880, together with his brother Franz, he founded the company H & F Zimmermann, Wesseling. Neither of these industrial pioneers could have known at the time that they were laying the foundation stone for today’s industrial center in the south of Cologne. Their company was the seed of what was to be the Evonik site.
The Zimmermann brothers' innovative process proved to be of great interest to the Deutsche Gold- und Silber-Scheideanstalt (Degussa AG since 1980). Potassium ferro cyanide is an important raw material for separating precious metals from their ore, which was their main business. When Heinrich and Franz Zimmermann started production at the Chemische Fabrik Wesseling AG, a new chemicals company founded in 1905, the Frankfurt-based company bought in and continuously increased their shareholding until they fully owned the business in 1959.
Seven years earlier in 1952, the Deutsche Gold- und Silber-Scheideanstalt had already founded its own factory for manufacturing hydrocyanic acid in the immediate neighborhood of the Chemische Fabrik Wesseling. In 1980 both the factories were brought together into one organization. The hydrocyanic acid produced in Wesseling is the raw material for a number of Evonik products, which are as essential in the plastics processing and pharmaceuticals industries as they are in metal refining, paint manufacturing, and the production of pesticides.
Silicates and silica – chemical all-rounder
Together with hydrocyanic acid and its follow-on products, the silica and silicates group represent the core of production and research at Evonik in Wesseling. They are manufactured from sodium silicate (water glass). Silicates and silica are multipurpose chemicals, which are used in the most varied areas of daily life. They are used as reinforcing fillers for rubber products, to make auto tires more durable, and to lower fuel consumption, for example; as clarifying agents and absorbents, in beer brewing, for instance, and to bulk out printing inks, toothpaste and adhesives. Silica improves the flow of powders, in extinguishers or spices. Evonik operates the largest silica and silicates production plant in the world in Wesseling; moreover, the site is the silica-competence center for research and development.
Wesseling facility, 2003
With the invention of ULTRASIL, white silica developed under Hans Verbeek in 1951, the factory made a pioneering contribution in this area. ULTRASIL had similar properties to the bulking agent AEROSIL®, but was much cheaper to produce. ULTRASIL was initially used in manufacturing rubber soles and was soon marketed in the tire industry. It was ULTRASIL that first made possible white wall tires; a fad in the 1950’s which is still preferred by some enthusiasts today.
In 1997 Degussa transferred its operations in methacrylate chemistry to a new 100-percent subsidiary, Agomer GmbH. The company headquarters was in Hanau-Wolfgang. Methyl methacrylate had been produced in the Wesseling factory since 1964. Around 160 employees worked in methacrylate chemistry for Agomer. The company was later merged with the subsidiary Röhm GmbH.
Multi-user site with a future
Tradition and future meet at Wesseling. Today, approximately 1,200 employees work in a total area of 330,000 m2, equivalent to over 50 football fields. As part of their plans to secure the future, Degussa set up an investment program, allotting around €200 million for Wesseling in 2001. The aim of the investment was to extend a methionine plant and to expand and modernize silica production.
With 17 manufacturing plants, Wesseling is one of the most important sites of Evonik Industries, delivering 500,000 metric tons of products per year.