Thursday, 12 May 2011

Change of platform for this blog

Hi! This will be the last post on this blog on this platform. From today I'm transfering Chemicals and Innovation to a new site, under the slightly different name of ICIS Chemicals and Innovation, to reflect the fact this is part of the ICIS free online offering. You can see more of ICIS and its other blogs at

You can find me and all I've written so far at this address: I hope you'll continue to follow the news and opinion on innovation in the chemical sector.

If you are interested, you can also follow the progress of the ICIS Innovation Awards 2011 at These were launched mid-April and the deadline for entries is 4 July.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Quick source of innovation ideas

Keeping up with my fellow bloggers on innovation, I came across this useful list of articles that had generated plenty of traffic on innovation strategy in April. It's on the Blogging Innovation site, which I have referred to previously and find has good articles on general innovation if not always chemical.

Also featuring here this week is another look at open innovation - and the main road blocks that have to be addressed to make it work.

It's by Paul Hobcraft, who runs an advisory business that stimulates sound innovation practice, researches topics that relate to innovation for the future, as well as aligning innovation to organizations' core capabilities

Monday, 9 May 2011

DSM, Roquette scale up bio-route to succinic acid

Innovation in the bio-based material sector continues to make ground. Amongst latest news is the decision by Netherlands-based major DSM to proceed with a 10,000 tonne/year commercial-scale facility for bio-succinic acid in collaboration with France's Roquette Freres. The plant, using yeast fermentation of crop-based materials, will be built on Roquette's site in Cassano Spinola in Italy, and be onstream in the second half of 2012.

Succinic acid can be used in packaging to footwear
Succinic acid is a chemical building block that can be used in the manufacture of polymers, resins, food and pharmaceuticals, says DSM, and provides an alternative to fossil-fuel based intermediates such as adipic acid and 1,4-butanediol. The two partners already have a demonstration plant running flat out in Lestrem in France and intend to create a joint venture company, Reverdia, to carry out business together.

Rob van Leen, chief innovation officer of DSM, commented: "The time is right to capitalize on the tremendous progress we have made together with Roquette in the last two years. Our proprietary yeast-based fermentation process not only allows cost effective production; it also eliminates salt waste and other by-products and thus improves the overall eco-footprint of end-products. This bio-based chemical building block is a substitute for various fossil feedstock derived monomers and proves that the bio-based economy is no longer a distant prospect."

And at an event in North America, DSM CEO Feike Sijbesma commented: "The so-called fossil-age will make a shift to the bio-based-economy. In two or three centuries from now, people will look back on our civilization as a merely brief moment in history where we in a period of just about 250 years shifted our total economy to coal, oil and gas. To make the shift back to living with, and especially off, nature, we need to start this shift now. We are at a turning point towards a next green industrial revolution to secure our feed and fuel needs in the future."

Sijbesma was receiving the prestigious George Washington Carver Award for Innovation in Industrial Biotechnology in recognition of his outstanding contribution and vision to the development and innovation in industrial biotechnology. He delivered a keynote address during a plenary session of the 2011 World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and Bio-processing in Toronto, Canada.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Tree bark may be used in polyurethanes

News has just come my way that Huntsman Polyurethanes is to join the Bark Biorefinery Consortium Project, a four-year Canadian joint venture between academia and industry that is exploring how best to extract value from tree bark, a forest residue left over by the lumber industry.

The collaborative research program has a total budget of Can$5.25m and is being funded by the province of Ontario together with participating institutions and industry partners. As part of consortium activities, representatives from Huntsman’s CoreScience unit in the US will work closely with scientists from the University of Toronto, who are leading the project.

Leveraging combined academic and commercial know-how, the Huntsman team will focus on one core element of the initiative: converting bark into value added intermediates for polyurethane to achieve improved properties and more renewable content. Previous research in this area has shown that incorporating bark products into other polymers can result in improved thermal stability and fire resistance, as well as improved adhesive properties. 

Niek van Wiechen, Global CoreScience Director at Huntsman Polyurethanes, said: “When the University of Toronto invited Huntsman to join the Bark Biorefinery Consortium, we leapt at the chance. The program has many parallels with our own corporate research and development (R&D) strategy. Huntsman is committed to developing renewable technologies that increase the natural content in our products, provide cost effective solutions for our customers, and offer significant sustainability benefits. This is a great opportunity to turn forest residue into valuable commercial products.”

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Open innovation at P&G

The chemical industry is gradually getting to grips with open innovation (OI) - as this article from the UK's Royal Society for Chemistry by Sean Milmo, also a regular writer for ICIS, sets out.

DSM is a leading exponent, even boasting a vice president for open innovation in the form of Rob Kirschbaum, a long-standing friend of ICIS. You can see more of its commitment to open innovation in a detailed and informative presentation by Rob van Leen, the company's chief innovation officer.

P&G, it seems, has been using OI for many years, and has not so long ago (10 years) formalised the approach as Connect + Develop, as outlined in this interesting blog on Forbes by Deborah Mills Schofield.

She argues that "P&G has created more value together with their OI partners than they ever could have alone. It is a real ecosystem that creates value on a global scale to accomplish P&G’s mission: '…improve the lives of the world’s consumers, now and for generations to come'.”

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

IYC art exhibition at SusChem Amsterdam meeting

ICIS is looking forward to its collaboration as media partner with SusChem, the European Technology Platform for Sustainable Chemistry. Two editors will attend the upcoming SusChem annual stakeholder day event in Amsterdam on 17 May.

Participants at the meeting will have the opportunity to take an exclusive preview of an international art exhibition. During the lunch interval the exhibition “Our Children on Water” will take place. Created by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) as a contribution to the International Year of Chemistry (IYC) this unique international art exhibition consists of artwork created by children from three African and six European countries depicting the role that water plays in their lives.

The three African countries involved are South Africa, Kenya and Ethiopia and the photo above (Copyright Zoe Heaton) shows children from Abyot Public School in Ethiopia getting involved. The artwork has been produced under the title 'Water: Refreshment or Responsibility?' The resulting collection of artwork displays breathtaking imagination and shows children's views on water from many different, thought-provoking perspectives. The artwork in addition helps to draw attention to the role of chemists in industry and academia in providing safe and clean water around the world.

European tour
The exhibition will take place in Beurs Van Berlage in Amsterdam on 17 May. Following exhibition at the SusChem Amsterdam event "Children on Water" will tour major European cities including London, Frankfurt, Prague, Rome and Barcelona throughout 2011 in collaboration with a number of European and African chemical societies.

The official launch for the exhibition will be held at the European Parliament in Brussels in June. The "Our Children on Water" project is a high profile exhibition that serves to showcase the chemical community’s involvement in the pursuit of clean and safe water for everyone.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

DSM/AkzoNobel boost innovation push

My colleague Will Beacham on ICIS Chemical Business has just published this interesting piece on the changing pace of innovation in the chemicals sector, with interviews with leading executives at DSM and AkzoNobel as well as consultants at Accenture. Well worth a look.

Accenture's Stephan Scholtissek argues that "CEOs should recognize that the core of the company is no longer the existing businesses, but the innovations. Innovators are today seen as the troublemakers; nobody wants them. Everything is laid on for the standard business to ensure it is working properly. All the effort goes into this. The most powerful board members are all working on the day-to-day business."

In the article, DSM's chief innovation officer, Rob van Leen, says: "Five years ago, we launched our strategy making innovation more center stage in our corporate strategy, to make it more market-driven and to increase the speed of innovation. Now we want to take this to the next level in line with our four strategic pillars: high-growth economies, innovation, sustainability, and partnerships and acquisitions."

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Strategies for R&D in emerging economies

ICIS has run several roundtables recently where innovation has risen as a topic, particularly the growing move by chemical majors to carry out innovation in places like China and the difficulties encountered. Now consultancy McKinsey has carried out an industry survey to assess the current situation.

It finds that many companies have not even addressed the issue of doing research and development in emerging economies like China, India and Brazil, even though these are the markets with vibrant growth prospects and the need for localised innovation in products that meet market demands.

McKinsey found that "fully one-third of executives around the world say their companies are not doing any R&D work in emerging economies." However, the good news is that companies that are active are addressing local needs, and not just attempting to shift innovation for developed markets to low cost regions.

Says McKinsey: "Of the two-thirds of respondents whose companies pursue such efforts, the largest shares say their R&D is focused on either global product platforms or local innovation in emerging economies, as opposed to R&D for developed markets only, which respondents say is not a major focus of emerging-market R&D operations. Moreover, companies appear to be aligning their goals, whether it’s seeking lower development costs or gaining better access to customer insights, with their specific R&D focus in emerging economies."

You can read the full report here.

Monday, 18 April 2011

ICIS launches eighth Innovation Awards

At last - after weeks of preparation I can officially launch the ICIS Innovation Awards 2011. This annual competition, now in its eighth year, recognises outstanding technological and business innovation in the chemical industry.

Dow Corning is the overall lead sponsor for the Awards, as it has been from their inception in 2004. CRA returns as the sponsor of the Best Product Innovation category, and U.S Chemicals is again sponsor of the Innovation with Best Environmental Benefit category.

Joining the sponsors this year is global health, nutrition and materials major DSM, which is supporting the new category of Best Innovation for Sustainability.

The Innovation Awards continue to grow and gain industry support. We have added a new sponsor and new category this year and look forward to being able to highlight the very best of innovation in the industry later in the year.

There is tremendous effort and investment going into innovation in the chemical sector today, as companies seek answers to many of society’s global problems.

The Awards are open to entry from today, with a deadline for entries of 4 July 2011. The winners will be announced on 17 October.

For more information or to enter the awards, visit  

Monday, 28 March 2011

Microreactors gain interest

This blog has already commented on the attraction of microreactors for greener chemical production, noting recently that one of the winners of the ICIS Innovation Awards - Oxford Catalysts - won it for microreactor developments.  Now market research firm Frost & Sullivan has released a fascinating study into the uptake of this technology.

Oxford Catalysts' microreactor
Says Frost & Sullivan: "The advent of microreactors makes it easier to conduct one-step reactions. Hence, the conventional chemical reactions that produce by-products and waste products can easily be utilized in microreactors to eliminate these alternate reactions, thereby preparing high-quality products.

"Moreover, the fast reaction rates ensure higher yields of up to 100% with high quality and no side reactions. Product quality is enhanced through the accurate control of operation parameters such as pressure, temperature and space velocities."

Oxford Catalysts' raising of a further £21m for future development bodes well for its efforts in biofuels and Fischer-Tropsch reactions in microreactors. Many other players are looking at the technology, which, says the report, has high potential. It points out though that there are risks in implementation:

"The scope for microreactors in fuel and chemical processing is high. However, the non-availability of any commercial demonstration unit that can be retrofitted to an existing facility prevents manufacturers from taking a huge financial risk in their facilities."

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Alternative feedstocks for petrochemicals

On the occasion of the NPRA's annual International Petrochemicals Conference in San Antonio, Texas, taking place as I write this in the conference hotel, ICIS editor Doris de Guzman has written a piece on progress towards bio-based feedstocks as an alternative to crude oil-derived materials.

The article appeared in a special publication ICIS produced for NPRA and delegates to the meeting.

Half a dozen US-based companies are well on the way to producing ethylene, propylene, butanediol and even adipic and acrylic acid from bio-materials, all of which can be used as inputs for downstream green chemicals. Doris reviews progress at these innovative companies in the article, and points to who is now moving to demonstration stage and beyond.

Says Doris: "The petrochemical sector will soon have an array of renewable raw materials to choose from, as companies gear up to commercialization through partnerships. Biobased chemicals activities are at fever pitch this year, as several start-up companies step up their efforts towards commercialization phase."

In the biobased intermediates, products such as acrylic acid, adipic acid, 1,4-butanediol (BDO) and succinic acid are among those that are considered frontrunners in advancing product and process development.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

SusChem annual meeting approaches

Chemical and biotech industry innovators and regulators will be meeting in Amsterdam for the 7th annual SusChem stakeholder meeting on 17 May.  The agenda focuses on the role the industry can play in sustainable growth, in the context of the EU's 2020 strategy.

The industry will be making its case to establish a couple of European Innovation Partnerships

SusChem, the European Technology Platform for Sustainable Chemistry, involves trade bodies Cefic and EuropaBio and was set up in 2004 as part of the European Commission's initiative to spur innovation across industry sectors in the EU.

The technology platform has already produced:
  • engagement with the wider stakeholder community in an open dialogue; 
  • an integrated, shared vision of a more sustainable future EU chemical industry;
  • an Implementation Action Plan that provides recommendations for mobilisation of resources for collaborative R&D, on sustaining a strong European chemical science base and on improvements for EU innovation framework conditions.

ICIS Innovation Awards 2011 launch nears

As well as my role as Chemicals and Innovation blogger at ICIS, I also run the ICIS Innovation Awards each year. March is always a busy time as I prepare to launch the Awards, now in their 7th year, on 18 April. The call for entries will appear in ICIS Chemical Business and on the website from that day, with a deadline for entries of 4 July.

Dow Corning has worked with ICIS over these years to sponsor the competition, designed to celebrate the best in innovation in the chemical sector. This year again they will take the lead sponsor role.

This year, we have a new category focusing on sustainability and a new sponsor to go with it, in the form of DSM. Sponsors from last year - CRA (Best Products) and U.S.Chemicals (Innovation with Best Environmental Benefit) - are also supporting the Awards again this year.

For full details of previous winners and the sponsors, you can go to I encourage all of you in companies to take a look and enter this year.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Evonik "white bio" day hails above average growth

In a recent white biotechnology day, attend by some 200 people, Germany's Evonik noted that the sector will see above average growth for the industry. It's a message that seems to be gaining momentum, but perhaps more so in rhetoric than in practice.

Evonik argues that the use of renewable raw materials presents special opportunities and prospects for the chemical industry. "Industrial biotechnology provides new approaches to manufacturing novel products with useful properties, or to manufacturing, for example, polymer building blocks and active ingredients by entirely different means. Because it is highly energy- and resource-efficient, white biotechnology is often an alternative to conventional chemical processes."

In the health, nutrition and cosmetic markets, there are constantly new growth opportunities for bio-based products, it adds, showing that white biotechnology has above-average growth prospects. Besides the economic growth opportunities through biotechnology, the event also centered around "renewable resources."

Evonik opens its Science-to-Business Center Biotechnology in January 2007 at its Marl site in Germany, where a host of experts from various disciplines are conducting research in “white biotechnology” in close cooperation with the business units and service units and a large number of external cooperation partners.

By conceiving new biotechnological products and processes, the center seeks to future-proof the core business of Evonik’s Chemicals Business Area. Biotechnological processes, unlike chemical processes, are notable primarily for their low investment costs. This means, for example, that a single bacterium can be used to perform multi-stage production sequences. The bacteria serve as “microbial cell factories.”

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Pepsico makes all renewable "PET" bottle

Pepsi has unveiled a PET-type bottle produced entirely from renewable resources, although it is not indicating how it has achieved the look-alike molecule for the polymer. All it says in its release is that: Combining biological and chemical processes, PepsiCo has identified methods to create a molecular structure that is identical to petroleum-based PET (polyethylene terephthalate), which results in a bottle that looks, feels and protects its product identically to existing PET beverage containers.

PepsiCo says its "green" bottle is 100% recyclable and far surpasses existing industry technologies. The bottle is made from bio-based raw materials, including switch grass, pine bark and corn husks.

In future, the company expects to broaden the renewable sources used to create the "green" bottle to include orange peels, potato peels, oat hulls and other agricultural byproducts from its foods business.

The announcement has sparked plenty of interest amongst bio-based economy followers, given the scale of Pepsi's operations. PepsiCo will pilot production of the new bottle in 2012.  Upon successful completion of the pilot, the company intends to move directly to full-scale commercialization.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Dow boosts innovation in Saudi Arabia

Dow Chemical has finalised its plans to invest in innovation in Saudi Arabia through support of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). A comprehensive cooperation agreement signed this week establishes Dow's Middle East and Africa R&D Center on the university's campus at KAUST.

Markus Wildi heads up Dow Chemical
in the Middle East
Dow and KAUST will collaborate on a range of academic research programs tailored to KAUST's areas of excellence in research and education. In particular, Dow will conduct R&D in the KAUST Innovation Cluster facilities until a permanent Dow facility in the KAUST Research Park is completed. Research will initially focus on water, water treatment technologies and oil and gas, and later expanding to include fields of study pertaining to infrastructure.

Dow will provide opportunities and funding to educate and train citizens of Saudi Arabia. Dow has already offered academic development opportunities and extended permanent offers of employment to KAUST students and will continue to do so. Dow will also provide financial support for research challenge competitions. Firstly, in alignment with Dow's 2015 Sustainability Goals, KAUST will administer the Dow Sustainability Innovation Student Research Challenge Program, which recognizes and rewards students for their innovation and research of sustainable solutions to the world's most pressing social, economic and environmental problems.

Dow's Middle East president Markus Wildi, said, "the Dow R&D Center at KAUST is a reflection of our commitment to the intellectual and human potential of this distinguished institution. Our collaboration agreement lends strong support to the notion that Saudi Arabia will become an engine of innovation and a generator of solutions for modern developmental challenges like clean water supply and sustainable living."

Monday, 14 March 2011

Dow studies bio-based propylene routes

Here's an interesting article from an ICIS colleague, Anna Jagger, on Dow Chemical's quest to source feestocks for its downstream slate from bio-sources. In this case, it's looking for ways of making propylene, to support its already proven bio-route to ethylene.

As well as developing the necessary process technologies, the company is examining which bio-based products it would be able to sell at a premium. "Each of the regions is looking from a markets point of view," said Theresa Kotanchek (left), Dow vice president for sustainable technologies and innovation sourcing. "We're examining an array of raw materials."

Dow sees opportunities in sectors including personal care, cleaning products and the replacement of phthalates as plasticizers, Kotanchek said. "The opportunities cut across multiple end-use markets," she added.

It is early days. Dow's research and development (R&D) teams are investigating which bio-derived products the company should be focusing on. The research is still exploratory, explained John Biggs, R&D development director for Dow's hydrocarbon and energy group in Latin America.

Friday, 11 March 2011

BASF, RWE, Linde extend carbon capture

The chemical industry continues to show it can provide solutions to the problem or global warming. In Germany, BASF and Linde have been working with RWE Power to develop carbon capture technology to remove carbon dioxide from the exhaust gases of a lignite-fed power station at Niederaussem.

Already underway for four years, the project has just been extended, with another 6m euros invested, to optimise the scrubbing agents and equipment.

Different scrubbing agents have been tested since the pilot plant was commissioned in 2009, in three test phases of six months each, to identify an optimum solvent developed by BASF. Compared with processes commonly used, the energy input can be reduced by about 20% when using the new chemical solvent for CO2 capture.

The new scrubbing agent also comes with increased stability and resistance to oxygen. This reduces the solvent consumption substantially.

In the test phase starting now and lasting to 2013, the structure of the CO2 absorber will be optimised by Linde so that carbon dioxide can be removed more effectively from the flue gas.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

New entrant for bio-ethylene

The petrochemical industry's search for sustainable feedstocks has prompted another major producer to look at sourcing ethylene from sugars, via ethanol, so as to be able to make polymers such as polyethylene and PET with a "green" credential.

Braskem’s new green ethylene plant in Triunfo
The technology is already in use in Brazil, where sugar cane has long been used as a source of ethanol. Braskem and Dow Chemical have separately announced plans to make ethylene and polymers using this route. And Solvay has plans to make PVC from bio-ethylene in the country.

Now, in Europe, Total Petrochemicals has developed proprietary catalyst for converting ethanol into ethylene, in association with IFP Energies nouvelles and its Axens subsidiary.

The new technology will open the way, Total says, to "competitive production of bio-ethylene from renewable resources with lower energy consumption and lower CO2 emissions." It is expected that the technology will be ready for industrial implementation around end of 2011.

The alliance also covers production of other olefinic monomers from bio-derived higher alcohols which will be developed in parallel within the same technology platform.

“With this new approach we will be able to respond to a growing demand for plastics based on renewable raw-materials. Efficient alcohol dehydration will broaden the commercial potential of all the on-going developments in the production of second generation bio-based alcohols and contribute to sustainable application of such forms of bio-based feedstock”, says Bernadette Spinoy, Total Petrochemicals senior vice president for base chemicals.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Bio-economy needs supply chain innovation

Chemical companies are striving to embrace bio-based production to ensure their long-term sustainability. But there are many issues to resolve and questions to answer.

Most, if not all, major chemical producers and major agriculture combines are looking at the potential for renewable raw materials to replace petrochemical feedstocks, in some areas of their operations at least.

And it is not just the majors that are investing heavily into the required technologies. Small, hi-tech start-ups are often leading the way in technology terms. Many have been lured in and supported by the huge political push in North America and Europe for alternative fuels such as bioethanol and biodiesel.

But increasingly, these firms are focusing on devising routes to chemicals from biomass, as the market and prospects for further fuels investment stalls due to concerns over subsidies and the nonfood use of crops.

The stimulus from the fuels sector to the use of renewable raw materials to make existing and new chemicals and materials has been beneficial, however. Not only has it kick-started production on a scale not seen before, but it has begun to show how the logistics of using crop-derived materials might be managed to enable widespread production of chemical inter-mediates and products such as polymers, surfactants, solvents and lubricants.

The problem is that in the main, the feedstocks - starches, sugars, cellulose and oils and fats - are produced in rural areas, away from industrial production centres, and in low density. Thus the bulky raw materials have to be transported over some distances, adding significant costs and environmental impacts.

Before the bio-based economy can truly begin to play a significant part in industrial output, such problems will need to be solved at technical and economic levels.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Innovation ahead for hair dyes?

Technological progress may be fast-paced in many fields, but one mundane area has been almost left in the doldrums for the last 150 years: The basic technology for permanently colouring hair.

That's the conclusion of an analysis of almost 500 articles and patents on the chemistry of permanent hair dyeing, which foresees much more innovation in the years ahead, including longer lasting, more-natural-looking dyes and gene therapy to reverse the grey.

The article appears in ACS's journal Chemical Reviewswhere Robert Christie and Olivier Morel note that hair dyes are poised for expansion in the future due to the greying of a global population.

Most permanent hair colouring technology, apparently, is based on a 150-year-old approach that uses p-phenylenediamine (PPD), a chemical that produces darker, browner shades when exposed to air. Concern over the safety of PPD and other hair dye ingredients, and demand for more convenient hair dyeing methods, has fostered an upswing in research on new dyes and alternative hair colouring technologies.

The scientists describe progress toward those goals. Future hair colouring techniques include nano-sized colorants, for instance. Composed of pigments 1/5,000th the width of a human hair, they will penetrate the hair and remain trapped inside for longer-lasting hair colouration.

Scientists also are developing substances that stimulate the genes to produce the melanin pigment that colours hair. These substances promise to produce a wider range of more natural-looking colours, from blond to dark brown and black, with less likelihood of raising concerns about toxicity and better prospects for more natural results.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Oxford Catalysts raises £21m

As the organiser of the ICIS Innovation Awards each year, it's always rewarding to see winning companies making progress with their innovations. This week, Oxford Catalysts, winner of the SME category in 2009 has raised a further £21m in funding to progress its innovative microreactor technology that can be used to convert biomass and biowaste into syngas ready for conversion into fuels and materials.

The microreactor is very compact
The technology is particularly appropriate as it enables the conversion to be carried out on a local scale, without transport of the biomass. It can also be used to convert stranded fossil fuels such as shale gas.

As the UK startup company says, "with moves towards development of vast shale gas reserves in North America, the increasing focus on the utilisation of stranded and associated gas and the growing interest in biomass-to- liquids (BTL) and waste-to-liquids (WTL) technology, the need to develop distributed technologies such as microchannel processing is more important than ever."  

Microchannel reactors – compact reactors that have channels with diameters in the millimetre range lie at the heart of microchannel processing technology because they intensify chemical reactors, enabling them to occur at rates 10 to 1000 times faster than in conventional systems. 

The Oxford Catalysts Group’s FT technology to produce biofuels has been demonstrated in Güssing, Austria since the summer of 2010 in partnership with SGC Energia, SGPS, S.A. (SGCE). In addition, the Group’s steam methane reforming (SMR) technology is due to be demonstrated in summer 2011 along with the Group’s FT technology in a six barrel per day integrated gas-to-liquids (GTL) pilot plant at a Petrobras refinery in Fortaleza, Brazil. 

The Group received its first order for a commercial scale FT microchannel reactor and highly active FT catalyst in December 2010. It expects that further commercial sales of its microchannel and catalyst technologies to multiple partners will follow in 2011.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Open innovation thoughts

Gwen Ruta
This interesting post came my way this morning, offering some thoughts on open innovation and why it is important.

It is written by Environmental Defense Fund's Gwen Ruta and first appeared on FastCompany's Expert Bloggers series.

EDF and Innocentive recently announced a partnership aimed at accelerating environmental innovation in business.

Monday, 28 February 2011

DSM brightens up innovation

DSM has taken its transformation a step further with a bold corporate rebranding that focuses on science and innovation. The Netherlands-based company has moved steadily away from being a petrochemicals and chemicals producer, and is now focused on health, nutrition and materials, which it is driving ahead through a highly regarded innovation strategy.
The new brand has as its slogan "Bright Science. Brighter Living". This is said to embody the philosophy that "DSM uses its science and innovation in partnership with its customers to create products and solutions that make a positive difference to people lives".

With "Bright Science", adds CEO Feike Sijbesma, "we mean the unique way in which we combine our Life Sciences and Materials Sciences disciplines, technologies and talents. In partnership with our customers we create innovative and sustainable solutions that address the key challenges facing society today.”

DSM invested $563m in R&D (5% of sales - well above the chemical industry norm) in 2009 but has also been espousing open innovation and venture funding to extend its innovation returns.

Last week it paid $790m to acquire Martek Biosciences, the US-based nutritional supplements producer. Martek produces omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) for its nutritional oils by using a strain of algae. Martek currently has an algae technology pipeline that can be used for industrial biotechnology applications, but it does not have an existing business for it yet, said Stephan Tanda, managing board member of DSM responsible for the life sciences, nutrition and pharma businesses in the Americas.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

US dominates chemical research over 10 years

Academics with US affiliations took 70 out of the top 100 slots in a recent listing of the world's leading chemists, published by the UK's Times Higher Education. Ranked by the impact of their citations over the past decade, as monitored by Thomson Reuters, the listing also shows that no fewer than 60% cited nanotechnology as their major field of research or interest.

Lieber - prolific and top ranking chemist
No other country came close. The next in the list was Germany with seven leading chemists and then the UK, with four. The top two academics in the UK were from the QUILL laboratory in Queens University, Belfast, cited for their work on ionic liquids. They are Professor Ken Seddon and Dr John Holbrey.

QUILL represents a classic academic/industry consortium for innovation in green chemistry and was founded in 1999 with 17 founder members, including Bioplymer Engineering; BNFL; BP Amoco; Chem Vite; Chevron; DuPont; Elementis; Exxon; ICI; Merck; Sachem; Sasol; Schering Plough; SmithKline Beecham; Solvay; UOP; and Zeneca. QUILL's current membership includes Chevron; Clea Technologies; Cristal Millennium; Cytec; Eastman Chemicals; Enviroways Technologies; Givaudan; Invista; Merck; Petronas; Procter & Gamble; SACHEM; Shell; Strata; Koei; and Umicore.

For the record, the top ranking chemist was Charles Lieber of Harvard University, with 74 papers published and 17,776 citations!

Friday, 18 February 2011

Will EU bans drive innovation?

The EU will ban the use of six chemical substances classifed as being of very high concern (SVHC) within the next three to five years unless companies ask for authorisation for their use. The move, a result of the EU's Reach chemicals policy, is being hailed from some quarters as a spur to innovation, in that it will force the chemical industry to search for safer alternatives.

The chemicals are 5-tert-butyl-2,4,6-trinitro-m-xylene (musk xylene), 4,4'-diaminodiphenylmethane (MDA), hexabromocyclododecane (HBCDD), bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP) and dibutyl phthalate (DBP). These are three phthalates, a flame retardant, a synthetic musk and a compound used in epoxy resins and adhesives.

They are the first chemicals to be placed on the SVHC candidate list to become subject to authorisation under Reach.

“Today’s decision is an example of the successful implementation of Reach and of how sustainability can be combined with competitiveness. It will encourage industry to develop alternatives and foster innovation," said European Commission vice president Antonio Tajani.

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) says companies wishing to sell or use these substances will need to demonstrate that the required safety measures have been taken to adequately control the risks posed by the substances, or that the substances' benefits for the economy and society outweighed the risks.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Bayer uses carbon dioxide as raw material in PUs

Scientists around the globe are searching for ways of using the vast amounts of CO2 greenhouse gas released during energy production. The molecule is a very stable one, but Bayer has come up with a process that uses the gas in the manufacture of polyurethanes.

The pilot plant is inaugurated
It has just started up a pilot plant at its Leverkusen site to test the innovation on a technical scale. Bayer is not giving much away at this stage, but says simply that "the plant produces a chemical precursor into which CO2 is incorporated and then processed into polyurethanes... as a result, the waste gas and key contributor to climate change can now be recycled and used as a raw material and substitute for petroleum." 

The innovation is the result of work carried out by Bayer, energy company RWE and RWTH Aachen University. Bayer and the university jointly run the CAT Catalytic Centre, which has developed the breakthrough catalyst used.

If the testing phase goes well, Bayer hopes to have the new process in commercial use by 2105.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

LANXESS invests for green rubber

German polymer and rubber specialist LANXESS moved this week to strengthen its commitment to sourcing non-petrochemical feedstocks for its synthetic rubber business by increasing its stake in US biotech startup Gevo. After investing a total of $27m, it now holds a 9.1% stake in the Colorado firm, which is developing a route to isobutanol from fermentable sugars derived from corn.

Gevo facility for isobutanol
LANXESS has signed a 10-year supply agreement with Gevo for its bio-isobutanol, which LANXESS will dehydrate and turn into isobutene, which it uses as a key ingredient in the manufacture of butyl rubber. It has already successfully trialed the process in a pilot facility in Leverkusen, Germany

The move is part of LANXESS's strategy of sharpening its focus on green chemistry, says CEO Axel Heitmann. It also targets sustainable production, which Heitman expects "to gain in significance in coming years".

The company has recently refocused its innovation effort, to concentrate on a number of mega-trends and to establish a central innovation group to coordinate innovation across business units. You can read all about this in my interview with Werner Breuers, LANXESS board member, carried out as part of the ICIS Innovation Awards 2010 coverage.

Gevo is currently retrofitting an ethanol facility to produce 50,000 tonnes/year of isobutanol at Luveme, Minnesota, scheduled for start-up in the first half of next year. It aims to have a capacity of 1m tonne/year by 2015 through acquisitions and joint ventures. Isobutanol can also be used as a gasoline and jet fuel blendstock as well as for making plastics, fibres and rubber.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Chemicals High Level Group stresses innovation

The European Commission's High Level Group on the Competitiveness of the European Chemicals Industry met last week to review progress after several years of industry/Commission meetings and reports. Innovation is still high on the agenda, as reported by Nigel Davis of ICIS in his latest analysis of the HLG process
The latest meeting also received coverage from fellow bloggers at SusChem, the joint Commission/industry platform for sustainable chemistry.
Georgio Squinzi (left), Cefic president, spoke at the meeting, noting that: "The High Level Group report provided us in 2009 with a strategic agenda and Cefic has drawn up a roadmap for implementation, involving its entire membership. A significant number of actions have already been taken on the recommendations falling within our responsibility.
The recommendations from the High Level Group were drawn up two years ago and whilst they remain valid, we need to step up a gear. Time is working against us!

Friday, 11 February 2011

Genomatica signs deal for syngas to chemicals

Syngas - a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen - has a long history of use in the chemical industry, both for large-scale ammonia and methanol production and for conversion of C1 feedstocks - coal and natural gas - into chemicals and fuels via Fischer-Tropsch reactions. But a novel, less energy intensive route is now being developed by US-based biostart-up Genomatica, which has identified and produced bacteria that can convert syngas directly into chemicals.

This week Genomatica signed a development project with fellow US company Waste Management to develop a process that takes syngas produced by Waste Management via controlled combustion of municipal household waste and turn into intermediate and basic chemicals.

Just which chemicals, Genomatica is not revealing at this stage, but it has other bugs that can produce butanediol and isopropanol and adipic acid, amongst other things.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

EU green paper sets out innovation programme

The EU Commissioner for Research and Innovation Máire Geoghegan-Quinn (left) has today presented a Green paper which proposes major changes to the way EU research and innovation is funded.

This, it argues, will make participation easier, increase scientific and economic impact and provide better value for money for EU taxpayers.

The proposals are out for consultation until 20 May. More details can be seen on the SusChem blog.

I have previously flagged this initiative up on this blog, arguing that the funding system, through the cumbersome FP7 process does not work at all well for the chemicals industry. There are issues about the pre-competitive nature of the innovation supported, and the fact that projects have to include companies and institutions in several EU states -a proviso that is not reflected for example in the unified US market.

The green paper proposes a Common Strategic Framework (CSF) that would create a coherent set of instruments along the whole "innovation chain" starting from basic research, culminating in bringing innovative products and services to market, and also supporting non-technological innovation, for example in design and marketing.

Friday, 4 February 2011

BASF boosts innovation spend

News released today shows BASF, the world's biggest chemical company, increased its research and development (R&D) spend in 2010 to a record level of nearly €1.5bn ($2.1bn). Spending will be even higher in 2011, it added. In 2009, the company spent €1.40bn on R&D, up from €1.35bn in 2008, and had an R&D to sales ratio of 2.76%.

“The company attaches great importance to continuity in R&D and has further increased its commitment even in tough times,” said Andreas Kreimeyer, research executive director and member of BASF's board of executive directors. “Research and development are the foundations to secure our future. BASF will therefore also be increasing its R&D spending in 2011."

BASF currently has 9,600 employees engaged in R&D work.

EU reviews innovation standing

A fascinating insight into national research and innovation performances in the EU and internationally is provided in the recent Innovation Union Scoreboard for 2010, published by Inno Metrics, part of the European Commission's DG Enterprise and Industry. 

The report shows, amongst other things, that in global terms, the EU's 27 members states are rapidly losing their lead in innovation over China and Brazil - two rapidly industrialising nations with high economic growth.

It also shows the US and Japan are holding their lead over the EU27, but that the EU27 are holding their lead over India and Russia. The results will not be pleasing reading to the EU bureaucrats who have high hopes for their Europe 2020 Innovation Union initiative, launched in mid-2010.

Within the EU 27, the Scoreboard shows leading innovators are Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Germany, with the UK just scraping in in fifth place.

The IUS 2010 groups EU member states into four performance groups, based on average innovation performance across 24 indicators.

These it designates Innovation leaders, Innovation followers, Moderate innovators and Modest innovators.
Leaders: Denmark, Finland, Germany, Sweden all show a performance well above that of
the EU27.
Followers: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands,
Slovenia and the UK all show a performance close to that of the EU27.
Moderate: The performance of Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Malta, Poland,
Portugal, Slovakia and Spain is below that of the EU27.
Modest: The performance of Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania is well below that of
the EU27.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

BASF scales up eco-polymer, finally

BASF this week starts up added capacity for Ecoflex biodegradable polymer at its main Ludwigshafen site in Germany. It is raising output from 14,000 to 74,000 tonnes/year, which it says should meet market demands to 2020, assuming 20%/year growth as BASF is doing.

The expanded Ecoflex plant
I thought it might be interesting to look back over the development of this innovation, and indeed it was. It shows just how long - over a decade - chemical companies have to persevere to get new products into the market, especially when they are up against established, high-volume products such as polyethylene.

Ecoflex has the properties of conventional polyethylene but is fully biodegradable under industrial composting conditions. It is thus competing purely on a green agenda, but with higher price given the new technology and much lower economies of scale.

BASF first started selling Ecoflex over 10 years ago, from a small 8,000 tonne/year plant in Ludwigshafen. This capacity increased to the current 14,000 tonnes/year after an additional plant was built in Schwarzheide in 2006. The announcement for the plant that has just been built was made in April 2008.

At the same time as it added new base capacity, BASF is also upping compounding capacity for its Ecovio offering - which is a blend of Ecoflex - based on petrochemical feedstocks - and a polylactic acid polymer, derived from corn starch. This, it says, is also doing well, on the back of its 75% or so renewable bio-based content.

Doubtless ever-growing concerns over the green agenda, renewable feedstocks and recycling will spur further interest in the material - but I wonder how much BASF has committed to developing Ecoflex and the market for it over the past 10 years - just how long is the pay-back period, and how many other companies without BASF's resources can stay the course?

Monday, 31 January 2011

DuPont's Kullman talks biotech at Davos

With DuPont in the throes of acquiring Danish biotechnology concern Danisco in its first big ($6.3bn) M&A deal for many years (in fact since it bought the Pioneer seeds business for $7.7bn in 1999), it was no surprise to see it promoting white (industrial) biotech at the just-ended Davos World Economic Forum. DuPont chairman and CEO Ellen Kullman told attendees that bio-based technologies can expand economic opportunities in rural areas while reducing the burden on the environment.

Ellen Kullman - raising
DuPont's biotech game
“Bio-based technologies are an evolution, not a revolution,” Ellen said. “Modern uses of biotechnology, including industrial biotechnology, are just starting and there are vast opportunities to use these tools in new and valuable ways.”

Kullman was serving as a WEF annual meeting co-chair and participated in a forum panel on delivering bio-driven development”. This discussed how bio-based technologies can change the future of development in rural areas.

DuPont is staking a lot on the Danisco purchase but is following the strategy of addressing mega-trends on which this blog has already shed some light. Acquisition is one way to accelerate the move into new technology areas for DuPont. But as with all M&A deals, post-merger delivery is the critical step.

But as Nigel Davis, Insight editor at ICIS, commented recently: "The bid, welcomed as a good fit  and a good price  by Danisco management, puts DuPont in an extremely strong position as it strives to develop the enzymes that will create second-generation biofuels as well as other bio-based products."

Thursday, 27 January 2011

SABIC boosts innovation spend

Saudi Arabia's petrochemicals and polymers giant SABIC is looking to move further into downstream products in the Kingdom as access to cheap ethane feedstock wanes. To support the drive, which includes it looking at investments in polyurethanes, polyamide and other new materials, it will be stepping up its spend on inhouse innovation.

al_Ubaid is driving innovation harder at SABIC
Over the next few years, spending on R&D will grow to more than 2% of sales from the 1% level currently budgeted, according to Abdulrahman al-Ubaid, executive vice president of technology and innovation, speaking to a Bloomberg reporter recently. The story notes that SABIC is building large R&D centres in India, China and Saudi Arabia.

SABIC reported sales of Riyal150bn ($40bn) last year, suggesting innovation spend will rise to over $800m shortly. In its latest report the company indicated it spent $140m on technology and innovation in 2009.

To put that spend into proportion, here are the 2009 R&D spend figures for the top chemical companies, as listed in ICIS's Top 100 companies:

Company            Spend, $m         As % of sales
BASF                  2,004                 2.76
Dow Chemical     1,492                  3.32
LyondellBasell        145                  0.47
SABIC                   140                  0.51
Mitsubishi Chem  1,477                  5.44
DuPont                1,378                  5.27
INEOS                    85                   0.34
Bayer                  1,289                  5.92

SABIC has indicated its plans to move downstream several times to me recently, first at the 2010 K plastics show in Dusseldorf, where I interviewed vice president and CEO Mohamed al-Mady, and again at the ICIS/Booz & Company petrochemicals roundtable in Frankfurt, in which SABIC's executive vice president for corporate strategy and planning, Abdulla Bazid took part.

In 2009, in recognition of innovation’s key role in driving rapid growth, boosting market share and enhancing corporate positioning, SABIC created its Technology and Innovation (T&I) unit as a single, unified global organization, fully aligned with its research and development plans. Technology departments were created within strategic business units and all SABIC technology centers were linked via a virtual network.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Unleashing Chinese innovation

Two factors are currently spurring Western chemical companies to commit ever-increasing innovation investment to China. One, the country is now the world's largest market for chemicals (according to Cefic figures), and two, the government is shifting the focus to domestic demand to drive growth, rather than it being export-led.

Dow Corning's new China Business and Technology
Center in Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park, Pudong, Shanghai,
illustrates the company's faith in innovation to support
market growth in Greater China.
Also, as I pointed out in an earlier post on this blog, Chinese innovation as measured by patent filings is maturing rapidly. To win a share of the still-fast growing Chinese market - GDP was around the 10% mark yet again last year - companies are having to bite the bullet on how they can innovate for the local market.

But before investing in research and technical centres in China, fears about intellectual property theft and copy-cat plants and issues surrounding recruitment and retention of talented researchers all need to be assessed and overcome.

Many of these issues were debated in a recent ICIS Roundtable on specialty chemicals and China, held in Frankfurt in association with Booz & Company.

The subject has also recently been discussed by Gordon Orr, a director in McKinsey’s Shanghai office in an article entitled "Unleashing innovation in China". He argues that China's success in innovation has been at best patchy to date but adds that: "There is no reason China shouldn’t aspire to... innovation... The evidence to date shows that, given the right incentives, Chinese scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs are eager to rise to the challenge of developing products for the global market." The challenge will be unleashing this innovation through changes in state policy.

In the meantime, it puts Western players in a strong position to innovate for the local Chinese market as well as using their research base in China as part of their overall global innovation network. Collaborating with the huge Chinese institutes and universities is a good way to tap into the Chinese capacity for innovation. It is no wonder we are seeing major investments now going forward.