How we became a manufacturer of disinfectant

Competencies and resources combined in Darmstadt and Wiesbaden – production retooled during ongoing operations.


Two Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany sites recently demonstrated how the Covid-19 crisis could unlock unimaginable potential and how combining existing competencies and resources made this happen.

Merck Darmstadt

Three weeks ago, Hans Becher, Head of Environment, Health & Safety in Darmstadt, suggested that Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany manufacture disinfectant itself. The necessary raw materials ethanol and propanol are available at the site, as they are regularly used, for example, as pharmaceutical excipients or in drug development.

One manufacturing option was found in the Liquid Handling Center of Life Science, which uses 70% pharmaceutical-grade propanol. Plant manager Ulrich Koop faced a major challenge: To build up capacities at high speed without impeding ongoing production, meaning "manufacturing an additional, previously unavailable product in the shortest possible time in plant working a full capacity," says Koop.

The Merck Kalle-Albert site in Wiesbaden

At the same time, sparkling wine and spirits producer Henkell-Freixenet in Wiesbaden asked local Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany site manager Dirk Schmalz whether his team could process high proof alcohol into disinfectant intended for a donation. The plant in Wiesbaden regularly processes high-purity chemicals for the semiconductor industry, and now the aim was to process alcohol extracted from sparkling wine. "The city of Wiesbaden urgently needed disinfectant for medical facilities," says Schmalz. "Naturally, the whole team was immediately more than willing to help out!"

The production teams in Darmstadt and Wiesbaden rose to the challenge – and within a week made possible what could otherwise take up to several months. The first small-scale filling took place on March 27. "Originally we had thought that we would only be able to use the disinfectant at our site," reports Hans Becher. "However, when the official requirements were eased, we did everything we could to maximize production in order to make part of it available to the public."

Over the past few weeks, capacities have been increased step by step. As the state of Hesse also requires large quantities of disinfectant to protect its personnel in hospitals and nursing care facilities, Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany donated 150,000 liters of the product manufactured in Wiesbaden and Darmstadt to the state of Hesse, 45,000 liters to the city of Wiesbaden and 50,000 liters to Darmstadt.

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