We are living in an era of profound transition that is being shaped not only by dramatic events such as the financial and economic crisis but also by powerful long-term developments. These so-called megatrends are driving change and exerting ever greater pressure on us to take action. They include, for example, climate change and the increasing scarcity of resources; demographic change and the growing world population; urbanisation and constantly expanding traffic volumes.
We need industry’s expertise and know-how if we are to master the challenges associated with these megatrends. In this context, the chemical and pharmaceutical sectors play key roles: the chemical sector as the hub supplying products for innumerable applications and the pharmaceutical sector because it is addressing the issue of health care for aging and growing societies. In both the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, innovation is more a part of day-to-day business than in almost any other sector. For example, with a figure of 81 per cent in 2010, these industries in Germany ranked highest in terms of the number of companies which successfully established new products and processes. This shows that the chemical and pharmaceutical industries are something like the nerve centre of Germany’s innovation system.
Bayer is one of the best examples of this with a research budget of about three billion euros and more than 13,000 researchers worldwide, almost half of whom are based in Germany. Working closely with universities, research institutes and partner enterprises, the company provides solutions to various problems and pools expertise relating to the main megatrends. Take demographic change, for example. The average life expectancy in Germany has increased by more than ten years since 1960 – a major achievement which is due not least to advances in medicine. At the same time, this has resulted in new challenges. As people get older, they are more likely to suffer from certain illnesses like diabetes, cardiovascular disease or cancer. Even these very prevalent diseases are often not adequately treatable, which is why they are the focus of Bayer’s research. One of the most interesting products to emerge from this is our anticoagulant Xarelto, which for some time has already been used following hip and knee surgery and is now also helping prevent strokes.
Discovered in Bayer’s research laboratories in Wuppertal, the product was honored in December 2009 with the German Future Prize awarded by the German President. Xarelto is characterized by a novel mechanism of action and offers key benefits for both patients and physicians. For example, it is administered in tablet form and does not have to be injected like the current standard therapies. It is also not necessary to regularly test patients’ blood counts. That ultimately helps curb the increase in health care costs.
Whereas the population in industrialized countries is aging, it continues to grow rapidly in developing and emerging countries. The United Nations estimates that the world population will exceed nine billion by 2050 – around two billion more than today. This raises the challenge of ensuring adequate health care for everyone. Especially in developing and emerging countries, not all people have access to the necessary medicines and almost half the world’s population is at risk from tropical diseases. Bayer is seeking to help here, for example by providing medicines for Chagas disease and African sleeping sickness via the World Health Organization (WHO). These are life-threatening infectious diseases which are among the neglected tropical diseases.
Over and above this, of course, it is necessary to ensure an adequate food supply for a growing world population. Already today, almost one billion people are suffering from hunger. However, there is little scope for increasing the amount of available agricultural land. Indeed, it is actually decreasing because soil is karstifying, megacities are proliferating and deserts are expanding as a result of climate change. This means that the available agricultural land per head is shrinking dramatically. It will take a massive increase in agricultural productivity to prevent a radical deterioration in the world’s food supply situation over the coming years.
This will not be possible without contributions from science and research. We need innovative active substances which effectively protect crops from insects, fungal diseases and weeds. We also need better plants with higher yields and greater resistance to stresses such as extremes of temperature or drought. Bayer is working to achieve this using modern breeding techniques that include green genetic engineering.
Given the dimensions of the challenge, it would be irresponsible not to make use of this innovative and safe technology. Moving on to the issue of climate change, global warming is without doubt one of the major challenges of our times. We have to find a way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions without jeopardizing either growth or our modern standard of living – also in the developing and threshold countries. Industry is contributing to solutions in this area too. For instance, the German chemical industry reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 47 per cent between 1990 and 2009, while simultaneously expanding production by 42 per cent.
At the same time, entirely new routes are being sought to deal with the harmful exhaust gas carbon dioxide. For example, it is now possible to use this substance as a raw material. Working together with energy company RWE and RWTH Aachen University, Bayer has developed a process which employs carbon dioxide to manufacture polyurethanes, high-performance polymers with applications in a wide range of everyday
products such as mattresses, shoes and soccer balls. At the start of 2011, a pilot plant came on stream at the Leverkusen site to trial the new process on a technical scale. One day, therefore, carbon dioxide might be an alternative to petroleum, which has until now been the chemical sector’s main source of the key element carbon.
What’s more, chemical products are themselves helping to facilitate the transition toward the greater use of renewable and climate-friendly energies. With the aid of nanotechnology, it is possible to manufacture extremely stable materials which can improve the efficiency of wind turbines, for example. Lighter materials also enable the production of lighter vehicles, which helps save gas. A ten per cent reduction in car weight translates into five per cent less fuel consumption. It is not surprising therefore that the amount of plastics used in cars has tripled over the past 30 years. In Germany alone, that yields annual fuel savings totaling 500 million litres. Another example is found in construction. At the present time, buildings account for around 40 per cent of the world’s energy consumption and 30 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions. Bayer has shown that it is possible to take a different approach with its EcoCommercial Building Program, a network that brings together 50 partners in the design of climate-friendly and energy-optimised buildings. One aspect of this is the use of modern insulating materials, which greatly reduce the energy consumption of buildings. The world’s first EcoCommercial Building was the childcare facility inaugurated at the start of 2010 at Bayer’s Monheim site. This generates more energy than it actually needs and in the first year of operation cut carbon dioxide by some 50 tons – equivalent to the average exhaust emissions of 27 cars. Although it might seem like the proverbial drop in the ocean given that global carbon dioxide emissions total more than 30 billion tons each year, examples like this show what is possible and thus point the way forward. They are what mankind now needs most of all if it is to fulfill its responsibility to future generations.
The author is CEO of Bayer AG. Dekkers studied chemistry and chemical engineering. After obtaining a doctorate, he worked for General Electric, then Allied Signal (later Honeywell International Inc.). In 2000, he became COO, then CEO and President of the laboratory equipment manufacturer Thermo Electron Corporation (later Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc.) before joining the board of Bayer AG in 2010.