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Success stories from NRW

ZINQ - Away from gas and primary raw materials

Companies like ZINQ from Gelsenkirchen, with 50 locations worldwide, consume a great deal of energy and raw materials. But ZINQ in particular is also a good example of thrust reversal through innovation: The family-owned company is moving full steam ahead toward an all-around sustainable, circular economy, climate-positive business model

The challenge

Steel must be protected from corrosion - from the small screw to the large steel structure. ZINQ, a medium-sized family business based in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, founded in 1889, specializes in hot-dip galvanizing and coating steel. Over the decades, the company says it has developed into Europe's largest service provider for piece-galvanized surfaces on steel. A few figures: 50 locations in five countries, 2,000 employees, including 80 trainees, over 300 million euros in annual sales - and more than 650,000 tons of steel that the company provides with a protective surface every year. This requires an enormous amount of energy.

In the Gelsenkirchen city port, for example, ZINQ operates a particularly large facility. In a 17-meter-long dip tank, structural parts for steel structures or truck trailers, among other things, are galvanized there at an operating temperature of over 450 degrees. "Every year, we need more than 100 million kilowatt hours of natural gas at all our production sites," says Lars Baumgürtel, managing partner of the ZINQ Group. On the other hand, high-quality galvanizing ensures that the steel is particularly durable. In terms of sustainability, the company therefore has to and wants to transform itself again and again: less energy, different energy, even longer life cycles of the materials, 100 percent recycling if possible - these are just a few keywords.

Commissioned by:

  • Photos: ZINQ GmbH & Co. KG
  • Text: Lothar Schmitz, Business Journalist Bonn

Lars Baumgürtel, CEO ZINQ

"The circular transformation is necessary, but also holds enormous opportunities for companies in NRW"

The innovation

"As a responsible family business, we have been thinking very seriously for a long time about how we can produce in a sustainable and generation-friendly way," explains Lars Baumgürtel. To this end, his company has set itself three ambitious goals based on the EU Green Deal: "Zero carbon, zero waste, zero pollution," Baumgürtel summarizes. "The greatest lever for climate protection lies in switching to a circular economy," the entrepreneur is convinced. That's why the company is doing everything it can to achieve a true circular economy, because according to Baumgürtel, this alone can save up to 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. The first step was the so-called "Cradle to Cradle" certification from 2010 to 2013. Translated: from the cradle to the cradle. The aim is to use materials in such a way that they are fully recycled, i.e. no waste is produced. 90 percent of sales are now certified.

In the second step, ZINQ began decarbonizing its production and launched an initial project in 2016 to use green hydrogen - with the prospect of one day completely replacing the natural gas needed to generate process heat. In a third step, ZINQ launched two initiatives at its Gelsenkirchen site to drive the necessary transformation on a much larger scale together with partners from industry. ZINQ is also focusing on resource conservation. For example, thanks to intensive in-house research and development, the company has been able to reduce the amount of zinc used by 80 percent while maintaining the same level of corrosion. "'microZINQ' shows that sustainability is possible through innovation," Baumgürtel emphasizes, proudly referring to the award of the German Raw Material Efficiency Prize. A positive side effect is that using less material also makes the company less vulnerable to rising raw material prices and supply bottlenecks. In the end, the company would like to stop using primary zinc altogether and only use recycled zinc from closed material cycles. However, implementing such a circular business model is only possible together with the entire supply chain - from suppliers to end customers.

More about ZINQ
Locations Europe-wide
Steel per year

The NRW effect

On the way to becoming an all-round circular company, the home location of the traditional medium-sized company plays a very important role. For example, ZINQ would hardly be able to take the not-so-simple path of replacing natural gas with green hydrogen on its own; on an overall scale, consumption is too small for this. That's why the company has been a massive driving force behind the "Klimahafen Gelsenkirchen" project. "We have now been able to find more than 20 partners who also want to use hydrogen to generate process heat," Baumgürtel reports. "Our total demand is a combined 15,000 metric tons a year - that puts you on the map and gets you taken seriously."

The family business is also taking part in the "prosperkolleg" project sponsored by the NRW Ministry of Economics. Its task is to research the transformation toward circular value creation in the region and to stimulate its implementation in parallel. The Ruhr West University of Applied Sciences is in charge of the project. "The circular transformation is necessary, but also holds enormous opportunities for companies in NRW," says Baumgürtel, "so I'm glad that so many companies and other players are seriously participating in the projects and sharing their knowledge. That moves us all forward!"

ZINQ supports

More about production

Transformation through innovation

Background of the publication series

The publication series "Transformation through Innovation" is intended to illustrate how companies in NRW have been able to write successful innovation stories thanks to the framework conditions created by the state of NRW.

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