Developing ‘green’ alternatives for the engineering plastics portfolio is an ambitious goal. Yet it is not a completely new idea for the company. Do you feel that the time is now ripe? Has demand for sustainable plastics risen? And what is the impact of the new legislation at the European level?
Developing green and sustainable products as such is indeed not new for our company. We have a long history of tangible proof points of our commitment to developing industry-leading sustainable materials. Examples include EcoPaXX, PA410, our most established bio-based, high-performance polyamide and AkulonRePurposed, PA6, a mechanically recycled high-performance polyamide recovered from fishing nets. What is new in our up-dated strategy is that we are aiming for bio-based and/or recycled-based alternatives for our entire conventional portfolio, by 2030, making DSM Engineering Plastics a leader in its domain. As part of this roadmap, at least 25% of the content of our products within this portfolio will be bio-based or from wasted materials. We indeed see the demand for sustainable plastics rising. End consumers are demanding more transparency and are increasingly willing to pay premium. Original Equipment Manufacturers and other value chain partners are setting ambitious targets for renewable and or recycled-based raw materials. The European ‘Green Deal’ which aims to transform the EU’s economy for a sustainable future, provides a perfect match with our sustainability agenda. In particular, the mobilization of the industry for a clean and circular economy and the acceleration of the shift to sustainable mobility are a perfect fit. Our roadmap also advocates and supports the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – in particular #12 responsible consumption and production and #13 climate action.
Do you have a time-line? Where will you be starting and what steps will this involve?
We have already started the transition of our portfolio with the launch of bio-based alternatives of Stanyl PA46 manufactured via a mass-balancing approach of bio-based feedstock. In the coming period we will identify and leverage the best of different technologies and approaches available such as fermentation, plant-based chemical conversion, mechanical recycling and mass-balance accounting of bio-based and/or chemically recycled feedstock. The bio-based products in our alternative portfolio will be developed by using plant-based raw materials and bio-waste products that avoid food-feed competition.
Will the development be slanted towards biobased alternatives or towards recycled alternatives?
It is a combination of both - and it is difficult to predict which one will get more prominence. We have started to introduce bio-based alternatives at the end of 2019 and are now in the process of identifying and leveraging chemical recycling technologies developed by our partners.
Are you approaching the development of biobased alternatives via the mass balance system, or will you also be examining the use of 100% biomass feedstock?
We will make our entire ‘conventional’ portfolio available via the mass balance system with chemical recycling technologies and bio-waste based technologies. All our products come with globally recognized sustainability certifications such as ISCC.
Will the alternative products be drop-ins? Will you also be looking at ‘new’ products?
At this moment we are looking at drop-ins to meet the target of having an entire portfolio of sustainable alternatives. That doesn’t take away the fact that we are always looking into new opportunities, also via feedback from our customers and innovation, development of entirely ‘new products’ may be a part of that.
When you say ‘recycled-based’, how high will the recycled content of the new compounds be?
Our definition is that at least 25% of the content of the new materials are recycled-and/or bio-based. Will DSM be following in the footsteps of other plastics producers and become active in the recycling market - to ensure the supply of recyclate? It is not our intention to become active in the recycling market ourselves but rather identify and select to right partners in order to make this transition happen. We believe that we need to collaborate with the entire value chain to drive our industry forward.
Many recyclers oppose the development of biobased materials, often citing contamination of the recycling streams as the reason why they should not be used, even though many bioplastics are easily recyclable. Is this an issue you have run up against?
Biomass-based oil is added into the cracker, where it is converted to clean (!) small molecules such as ethylene, propylene and benzene each of which then form the building blocks to produce monomers which again in their turn form the building blocks for polymers.
Can you tell us something about yourself? What is your experience with sustainable plastics?
I personally believe that with our world facing defining challenges – including climate change, plastic pollution and resource depletion – it’s more important than ever that we collectively, with our customers, suppliers and partners, step up our efforts to drive circularity and live sustainability. I have strong experience with and I am passionate about sustainability-driven strategies in the speciality materials field. This is indicative of the passion I have personally and professionally - to work with our customers and leverage the market trends on sustainability to develop new and innovative products. That’s why moving toward a bio-based and circular economy is crucial. Our world and the future of our children’s world depends on them.