InterviewUS Dow Corning to target R&D to sustainability

09 June 2009 22:15  [Source: ICIS news]

By Doris de Guzman

NEW YORK (ICIS news)--US silicon-based materials producer Dow Corning aims to direct more than half of its research and development (R&D) spending on projects linked to sustainability, CEO Stephanie Burns said on Tuesday.

“For us, sustainability is a way of doing business. It is built into all of our business decisions,” Burns said in an interview on the sidelines of the company's press conference in New York City.

“We see this as a business opportunity - the way in which we can become the supplier of choice and a business partner of choice by meeting the needs of both our customers and of society,” she added.

Around 40-45% of Dow Corning's R&D spending is already aimed towards sustainability, Burns said.

Burns said R&D accounts for 4-5% of the company’s annual sales, which amounted to $5.45bn (€3.92bn) last year.

Much of Dow Corning's innovation efforts will be linked to trends in renewable energy, clean and accessible water and a sustainable urban environment as it relates to green construction materials, Burns said.

In a recent survey conducted by Dow Corning, Burns said more than 65% of business leaders noted developing green technologies or environmentally sustainable products as one of their top three priorities.

“For our customers, the need to develop green products is becoming more of a significant business driver. That trend will only continue,” Burns said.

Solar power continues to be a major focus of Dow Corning. Burns estimated the current global solar energy market to be at $19bn compared with $8bn a few years ago.

“No area of sustainability and innovation has captured our attention more than solar power. Nearly nine years ago, we recognised solar would be important for the future of Dow Corning, and we were right,” Burns said.

She noted further growth potential coming from the US because of the Obama administration’s commitment to a renewable energy economy.

In the past five years, Dow Corning and its 63% owned joint venture Hemlock Semiconductor have announced around $5bn in solar-related investments, Burns said.

Dow Corning is also looking to develop products for the growing wind power and green construction materials sectors, she said.

Burns also cited some of the company’s technologies addressing water conservation issues in the textile, agriculture and personal care markets.

“In the textile industry, we created a silicon-based softening technology called Eco Softener where we reduce the amount of water and energy used to process and soften denim in the manufacture of blue jeans and clothing,” Burns said.

The technology can save about 4 gal (15 litres) of water for every pair of denim jeans made. This could potentially save 7.5bn gal/year of water based on 1.9bn pairs of jeans sold worldwide, she said.

Another example is the development of powdered shampoo in satchels, which Burns said is targeted for the Indian market. The powdered shampoo would require about a cup of water to use.

In agriculture, Burns said next-generation silicone rubber technologies are helping Chinese potato farmers, Indian palm oil producers and sugarcane farmers in the Philippines save water use by 40% by working with manufacturers of drip irrigation systems.

“This is a significant step in helping to address depleting water levels in these parts of the world,” she said.

Dow Corning is also working with French specialty chemical company Rhodia in the development of silica and silane technology for reinforcing natural rubber in tyres, as well as with US green chemistry company Elevance Renewable Sciences in the development and marketing of natural oil-based personal care and cosmetic ingredients.

($1 = €0.72)

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By: Doris de Guzman
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