Raw materials in the chemical industry have historically always been derived from oil, but that is starting to change. Over the past couple of decades, our Group has decided to invest heavily in research on bio-based materials, while also finding ways to integrate more circular practices in our production processes.
Today, as part of our Solvay One Planet objectives and our determination to continue on our path towards sustainability despite the Covid-19 crisis, we aim to generate 15% of our revenue from either bio-based or recycled-based materials by 2030.
This target complements Solvay’s strong and sometimes pioneering commitments in terms of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions as well as our pressures on biodiversity.
“The circular economy is one of Solvay’s key sustainability objectives, and we have decided to put bio-based business as a flagship priority at the heart of that,” explains Isabelle Gubelmann-Bonneau, Solvay’s Senior VP Circular Economy Head. “And when we consider bio-based solutions, we look at the big picture, from sourcing to end use.”
The push to go circular
Obviously, this is no easy shift. Opportunities to move away from fossil-based sources need to be carefully examined before they can become a reality.
But pressure from consumers to move in that direction is constantly increasing, encouraging brand-owners to express their interest and even their need for bio-based and/or recycled materials. And that pressure cascades onto Solvay.
This is particularly true in industries such as home & personal care, where Solvay’s bio-based solvents such as Augeo® enables manufacturers to develop non-toxic cleaning product formulations; but in entirely different domains such as plastics for electronic devices, demand is also increasing to shift to bio-based materials such as Solvay’s Kalix®, a polymer derived from castor oil.
“Bio-based solutions were until recently mostly applied in sensitive markets such as personal care, agrochemicals and food,” says Thomas Canova, Research & Development Portfolio Management Director at Solvay. “But today, all the big markets from electronics to automotive are moving in that direction, because everyone is looking to reduce their impact on the environment.”
One telling example of this trend can be found in one of the world’s most renowned electronic device manufacturers requesting its suppliers, among which Solvay, to switch to renewable electricity.
Going back to materials, the case of guar-based polymers, such as Solvay’s Jaguar® for hair and skin care, is a perfect example of the full benefits of switching to bio-based.
It offers the exact same properties as its fossil-based counterpart while being derived from crops sustainably grown in Northern India, with support to the farmer provided by a partnership with local organizations.
In some occasions, the virtues of being bio-based and circular can be gracefully combined, for example when bio-waste from agriculture or food processing can be used as the raw material. Solvay is increasingly exploring these types of paths, and certain applications already exist – the Augeo® solvent for example is made from glycerin derived from a byproduct of biodiesel production in Brazil.
The circular economy is more and more about eco-design, about changing the way we elaborate products. Everyone is starting to see clearly the benefits of reducing their impact. Isabelle Gubelmann-Bonneau, Senior VP Circular Economy Head, Solvay
A new, bio-based value chain
All these positive elements put aside, pricing is a real issue when considering the switch to renewable materials, which are almost always more expensive than their fossil-based equivalent.
The value chain based on oil derivatives is well established; now it’s a matter of making the bio-based value chain competitive, and that’s a challenge.
But, for all the reasons listed above, more and more manufacturers are nevertheless willing to take the leap. “Generally speaking, pricing needs to be reinvented in the circular economy,” says Isabelle. “It’s increasingly more about eco-design, about changing the way we develop products. Everyone is starting to see clearly the benefits of reducing their impact. Now more than ever, bio-based is well placed to become disruptive.”
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