Interview with Johannes von Cossel from Additiv-Chemie Luers

Specialization and Sustainability as Keys to Success in the Chemical Industry

Johannes von Cossel has been the CEO of Additiv-Chemie Luers GmbH & Co. KG (short: ACL), a subsidiary of the DS Group, for four years. The Delmenhorst-based chemical company specializes in the production of additives, package solutions, and specialty products for metalworking. In the interview, we discussed strategies for positioning in a specialized niche and the importance of sustainable products.

The chemical industry in Germany has recently faced various challenges. Among them is the impact of high energy prices, which have adversely affected production. Many companies have experienced revenue losses and had to scale back investments. Major companies like Evonik have significantly reduced their workforce. Despite these circumstances, Additiv-Chemie Luers successfully concluded the 2023 fiscal year. What factors contributed to this positive outcome?

While the increased energy costs, approximately 200,000 to 250,000 euros per year, are noticeable, they pale in comparison to the expenses borne by large energy-intensive companies like BASF or Evonik. In addition to oil from DS and gas, we also have access to cost-effective electricity from our own photovoltaic system.

We operate in a highly specialized market segment and are well acquainted with its influences and challenges. We confront these challenges head-on and focus on sales. We have successfully expanded our trading business. Particularly, products from our own manufacturing are of great importance to Additiv-Chemie Luers as they serve as a significant revenue driver and ensure employment in production. Therefore, we place great emphasis on their further development and distribution.

What strategies does Additiv-Chemie Luers pursue to successfully position itself in the specialized niche of the chemical industry?

Our strength lies in the specialty business. Unlike the large-volume business in the energy sector, we specialize in smaller quantities with higher margins. A central element of our strategy is to take over distribution for other companies in Europe to generate additional revenue. A successful example of this is our partnership with a South African company. As a new distribution partner, we now distribute their product with an annual volume of over 200 tons in the European market. Our goal is to further expand this volume.

Furthermore, we engage in development projects in cooperation with other companies. A recent example is our defoamer project, which we initiated in 2018. We have been distributing the specialty defoamer in our market segment since early 2024. Defoamers are specialty products sold in smaller quantities and offer attractive margins.

Additiv-Chemie Luers places great emphasis on sustainability. What specific steps have you taken to make your products and processes more sustainable, and how have your customers responded to these initiatives?

We view sustainability as an integral part of every customer interaction. However, the discussion about sustainability doesn't stop at mere conversation; it's about taking concrete actions and measures. Many customers want to demonstrate their active engagement in sustainability, but thus far, the topic hasn't been fully commercialized.

In petrochemistry, making products more sustainable presents a complex challenge. One approach is to use alternative synthetic raw materials such as esters and vegetable oils instead of mineral oil. These alternatives are more environmentally friendly but also costlier. The central question remains whether the market is willing to bear these additional costs – and often, that's not yet the case. Additionally, the definition of "sustainable" varies widely. For us, aspects like biodegradability, solvent-free (VOC-free) formulations, product labeling, and being free from mineral oils are paramount.

At our site, we're actively working to make our business processes more sustainable. This includes measures such as reducing paper consumption through increased digitalization, switching to green energy sources, installing our own photovoltaic system, and optimizing our heating processes through technical enhancements. Moreover, by reducing the wall thickness of our barrels, we can minimize steel consumption and thus save CO2 emissions.

We consider sustainability to be an integral part of our business. Aspects such as biodegradability, solvent-free formulations, product labeling, and being free from mineral oils are our top priorities.

In collaboration with Sparks and Esti Chem, we see great potential for the development of new products and expansion into new distribution territories. Furthermore, there is an opportunity to jointly develop and market renewable products alongside the DS Group's energy sector.