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None of the companies that form the Chemicals Business Area of Evonik Industries AG today have seen the extent of change as that experienced by SKW Trostberg AG, which was originally established on November 6, 1908, as Bayerische Stickstoffwerke AG, from their beginnings to the early 21st century. It all started in the late 19th century with the public’s increasingly louder demand to regulate the flow of the Alz River, a tributary of the Inn River that carried large volumes of water over a steep run. To counter the annual flooding, the Bavarian government decided to build a canal for the river and two hydropower plants. Ultimately, the significant volume of energy generated at these plants would be used for the energy-intensive production of calcium cyanamide at Bayerische Stickstoffwerke AG. The Alz power plants became operational in 1910. The production facilities, including the plant in Trostberg, for the much-sought-after fertilizer, which was manufactured by mixing heated calcium carbide with pure nitrogen, were built at the same time.
The enormous agricultural demand for calcium cyanamide not only meant high profits for SKW, but also prompted the construction of new facilities in Piesteritz on the Elbe River in 1915 and in the Upper Silesian town of Königshütte (now known as Chorzow). The latter plant was seized by the Polish government in 1922, while the Piesteritz facility was heavily expanded. The facility, in East Germany after the war, would eventually return to SKW in 1993 after the German reunification and was sold in 2002. The Czech company Agrofert a. s. continues business activities there under the name SKW Stickstoffwerke Piesteritz GmbH.In 1923, the German government founded the state-owned industry conglomerate Vereinigte Industrie Unternehmungen AG (VIAG), which also included the ownership of SKW. As a result, SKW was part of the VIAG Group for more than 75 years, although parts of its capital changed hands frequently. After the production slump during the Great Depression from 1929 to 1932, calcium cyanamide became a choice and subsidized product during the Nazi era and World War II. The SKW facilities sustained little bombing damage only at the end of the war and the production remained intact.
Power plant, turbines hall, around 1910
Thus, the production of calcium cyanamide secured the basis for many decades of what would later become SKW, boosted by the addition of another production facility in 1920 and a third hydroelectric power plant near Hirten/Alz. SKW stands for Süddeutsche Kalkstickstoff-Werke AG, the official name of the company after the 1939 acquisition of Bayerische Stickstoffwerke AG from Bayerische Kraftwerke AG that had been in existence since 1920.
SKW went beyond producing calcium cyanamide after 1944, when the production of ferrosilicon at the Hart plant formed the starting point for the metallurgy business of the company. Further additions to the product portfolio ensued in the 1950s and 1960s, when the company introduced numerous specialty alloys and the carbide-based desulfurization agent CaD. From the late 1940s, SKW also became active in NCN chemicals, products with typical nitrogen-carbon-nitrogen configurations, through its cyanamide core business. This included MELAMINE®, which is used for manufacturing high-quality laminates, molding compounds, adhesives, and coatings. A large-scale MELAMINE® production facility was built in Schalchen in the 1950s. Further NCN chemical products included ammonia and the concrete additive MELMENT®, which helped establish the construction chemicals activities of SKW.
Sculpture sowing calcium cyanamide, 1919
The company also began producing acrylic nitrile, a precursor product for synthetic fibers, in the Bavarian location of Münchsmünster in a joint venture with Hoechst AG in the early 1970s. A cyanuric chloride plant was added at the same site in 1976 to secure the supply of cyanuric acid. The company divested this business in 2001.
The expansion of construction chemicals and the establishment of a business division with natural substances represented a quantum leap for the SKW Group in the 1990s. SKW successfully went public in 1995 to create the conditions for this development and eventually transformed itself into one of the world’s largest manufacturer of specialty chemicals. SKW had engaged in efforts to expand its construction chemicals business since the 1970s. This included the acquisition of the Augsburg-based company PCI with a large product system portfolio that included waterproofing materials and substrates for floor coverings.
Flags with SKW-logo, 1996
The merger with Master Builders Technologies (MBT), the construction chemicals subsidiary of the Swiss Sandoz Group, turned SKW into the global leader of this sector in 1996. The company further augmented its portfolio by acquiring Harris Specialty Chemicals (HSC) in 1999. When Degussa became re-established in 2001, SKW Bauchemie formed an essential part of the Construction Chemicals Division. The production of natural substances became a third core-business area in 1994. The company divested these activities, together with construction chemicals, as part of a further realignment in 2005 and 2006.
SKW rounded off its corporate profile in 1999 when it fully acquired the Essen-based Goldschmidt AG from its parent company, VIAG. Within SKW, Goldschmidt formed the fourth business division of performance chemicals. In 2006, the NCN chemicals activities of the former SKW were spun off to form the subsidiary AlzChem GmbH, Trostberg. In the end of 2009 Evonik Industries AG sold AlzChem, which was part of its Chemical Business Area, to financial investor BluO.