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On crude oil, high-tech plastics and healthcare

Insulin pens, infusion bags, syringes, medication packaging, face masks – they all have one thing in common: the products are made of plastics, otherwise known as polymers.

The raw materials needed – namely ethylene and propylene – are produced by OMV from crude oil in its refineries in Schwechat and Burghausen. The majority of production then goes to its subsidiary Borealis, a world leader in manufacturing high-tech plastics.

These plastics are used in many of the products we use every day, more than you might suspect at first: solar panels, automotive components in (electric) vehicles, pipes for infrastructure and drinking water, household appliances, data cables – and also medical products.

Taking no risks

“The safety of patients and healthcare workers is the top priority in the medical sector,” says Nina Ackermans, Head of Marketing for “Advanced Products” at Borealis. “Infusion bottles and ampoules used to be commonly made of glass, requiring special care in clinical settings and emergency situations to avoid cuts. Switching to plastic packaging has not only made them easier to use, but also simplified their transport and logistics. One other reason for its success is that plastics are versatile materials allowing many different shapes, designs and functionalities.

But where precisely do we see plastics in the medical sector? “A big portion goes to packaging pharmaceutical products and medical devices,” explains Nina Ackermans. “Examples are infusion bags and bottles, unit-dose ampoules for eye drops, parts for inhalers, insulin pens and syringes. In relation to the current coronavirus pandemic, products such as face masks, breathing apparatus and testing kits are in the public eye. They are also made of plastic and provide patients and medical personnel with the highest possible quality and maximum safety”, she says.

In relation to the coronavirus pandemic, products such as face masks, breathing apparatus and testing kits are in the public eye. They are made of plastics that provide patients and medical personnel with the highest possible quality and maximum safety.
Nina Ackermans, Marketing “Advanced Products”, Borealis

Tried and tested is the priority for the medical industry

The healthcare sector is a risk adverse industry as it relies on the secure and consistent supply of high quality raw materials to ensure patient safety. “Every change, for example in the material composition of a medical packaging or a device, requires a new registration with the regulatory authorities,”, explains Nina Ackermans. This causes significant costs and requires a lot of testing and documentation. “It also explains why our customers can’t simply change their raw materials, which creates a responsibility for the entire supply chain. We developed the BORMED™ concept to address these challenges. Bormed is a concept that allows us to provide consistent quality with every batch supplied and processes that help the pharmaceutical industry to manage their risks.

Safe and sustainable production

Safety and quality have always come first in healthcare but in recent years the issue of sustainability has steadily gained importance. “Mechanically recycled plastics can’t currently be used in healthcare applications due to high purity and quality requirements,” explains Nina Ackermans. That’s what makes OMV’s ReOil project an even more exciting prospect for this industry. Here plastic waste is broken down into its chemical components and transformed into synthetic crude. “If plastic waste can be used to make plastic that meets the same criteria as plastics from conventional feedstock, then this is certainly a development of huge interest to the medical industry, helping to contribute to a carbon neutral society,” concludes Nina Ackermans.
 

Factbox

From crude to cure: The crude oil value chain.
Many people wish for a world without the use of oil and plastics. But what would that mean for our healthcare? Check out the video to learn more about how crude oil is connected to healthcare:
 

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