Green as a driver

greener

Greener and more cost-efficient solutions

For many years now, our investments in R&D have been yielding significant results, as evidenced by the recent introduction of several new products and processes contributing to Bekaert’s growth. Growing concern for the environment has an increasingly bigger influence on our business and on our innovation strategy. The need for more sustainable solutions in energy production and for lower energy consumption are major drivers of the innovation-driven culture at Bekaert. We develop new products that are used in the solar and wind energy sectors – sectors that undoubtedly represent important growth opportunities.

Bekaert has developed an extensive list of products that allow its customers to reduce their impact on the environment, save energy and operate in a more cost-effective way. Here are some examples:

  • Ultra-thin metal fibers used in gas burners allow for efficient incineration and low NOx and hydrocarbon emissions.
  • Clean enclosed burners for torching gas at oil fields or plants incinerate superfluous gasses, thus greatly reducing hydrocarbon and CO emissions.
  • Wheel weights, made from profiled steel wire, which are attached to the rim to balance the wheel, are the environmentally-friendly alternative to lead, which is harmful to the environment.
  • Biodegradable polymer coatings on wire used in the agricultural sector make for eco-friendlier disposal of old stock.
  • Sintered or welded fibers that go in diesel particulate filters filtrate fine particulates that can be harmful to health.
  • Ultra-tensile steel cord for tires weighs less, causing vehicles to consume less fuel and, at the same time, provides better reinforcement.
  • Heating cord, comprised of extremely thin wires with a plastic coating, is a crucial component in limiting soot emissions by trucks.

We continued to put great effort into process improvement as well. For example, we are currently able to build steel cord plants that are significantly more cost-effective than the ones we used to build. We achieve this by re-engineering our processes, redesigning our production equipment and localizing part of the manufacturing of our machines. And we have made huge strides in the certification of our plants: our goal is to have all our plants ISO 14001 certified by the end of 2011.

Our technology centers are also equipped with pilot lines. Extensive testing of new materials and products in these pilot plants allows us to roll them out to our production platforms worldwide without the initial difficulties that typically arise during a new start-up.

New products introduced in 2009

By applying newly developed technologies Bekaert is busy preparing next-generation wires for some hi-tech products in which it has already been successful in recent years. For the offshore industry new flexible pipe wires were being prepared throughout 2009; for the automotive industry we are meeting new customer requests to develop a wider flatblade for windscreen wipers. Likewise we continued developing stronger and thinner sawing wire up to 80 micron for photovoltaic applications.

In 2009 we commercialized the award-winning, steel cord reinforced EASI GMT material, an abbreviation for Energy, Absorption, Safety, Integrity Glass Mat Thermoplastic. This material is a hybrid reinforcement structure, made of steel and glass fiber in a polypropylene matrix. As the product combines lightweight and high performance features, it will be used as the matrix material for the bumper of a new exclusive type of sports car.

We also introduced the Bekaert Compact heat cell, a highly compact combination of a burner and heat exchanger, which has an optimized design in flame shape and combustion room to achieve the best emissions.

Bekaert’s entire product portfolio, is centered around two major technology axes: metal transformation and coating technologies. The purpose of our technology centers is to continuously optimize the synergy between both domains. The increasing cross-functional cooperation between people from technology, engineering and from the business units is a crucial driver for our innovation.

In addition we launched Bezinal®3000, the next generation of our corrosion-resistant coating for high-carbon wires. Compared to zinc coating, the corrosion resistance of Bezinal®3000 is ten times better. This superior corrosion resistance results in a longer wear life, thus making Bezinal®3000 intrinsically suitable for applications in technically demanding environments underground (e.g. mining), in open water (e.g. offshore and deepwater mooring) and in the air (e.g. overhead power lines.

With the development of the new AZO (aluminum-doped, zinc oxide) rotatable sputter target, Bekaert delivered a significant contribution towards making better and cheaper solar cells. We create high value for photovoltaic customers as it ensures high-quality transparent conductive oxide (TCO) layers, higher deposition rates and a high stability over the lifetime of the solar cells.

We have applied our expertise in flexible films to make laminate backsheets for photovoltaic modules, a critical component in solar panels. Backsheets are essential in the overall design of crystalline photovoltaic modules. Their job is to insulate the electronics and protect photovoltaic cells from the environment by preventing the ingress of moisture and by stopping UV rays from damaging sensitive electrical components.

Acknowledgements

Our thanks go to the Flemish government agency for Innovation by Science and Technology (IWT). Its subsidies for R&D projects involving highly-educated scientific personnel and researchers in Flanders are pivotal to the ongoing foothold of our R&D activities in Belgium. In 2009, we presented 6 new R&Dprojects to IWT. We also applied successfully for an R&D grant in the Walloon-region for our Bekaert Advanced Filtration (BAF) activity in Sprimont. Furthermore, Bekaert registered for 2 new European projects under the FP7 Framework Program.

  • Share
  • Print