ICIS Innovation Awards winners

17 October 2011 09:01  [Source: ICB]

The ICIS Innovation Awards winners for 2011 came from a high-quality list that gave the judges plenty to debate, but the overall winner emerged with unanimous acclaim

Japan's Teijin Group has triumphed in this year's ICIS Innovation Awards, emerging as overall winner as well as winning Best Product Innovation, sponsored by international management consultancy CRA.

Teijin's mass-production technologies for carbon-fiber-reinforced plastics (CFRPs) for use in automotive construction captured the admiration of all five judges (see below).


Teijin's use of thermoplastic resins instead of the more conventional thermosetting resins used in CFRP has enabled it to cut production cycle times to less than one minute and allowed it to weld components together and bond them to other materials such as steel.

winnersThe result, the group claims, "overcomes one of the biggest challenges in the industry and represents a long stride towards the use of carbon fiber for mass production of automobiles."

The innovation, said the judges, clearly has huge commercial benefits and environmental importance, as it enables car manufacturers to address the challenge of weight saving and hence to improve fuel efficiency and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Contest judge Neil Checker of CRA was impressed by the range of clients Teijin is working with, while Adrian Higson of the UK Centre for Biorenewable Energy, Fuels and Materials said the way Teijin had overcome some difficult technical challenges to develop a technology that can meet car industry needs for mass production was also impressive.

This is the second year running that Teijin has featured among the ICIS Innovation Awards winners. Last year, it won the Innovation with Best Environmental Benefit category with its ECO Circle closed-loop recycling system for polyester textiles and fibers.

Environmental considerations played a key part in all the winning entries in this year's awards, which have been supported by US-based Dow Corning as overall sponsor since their launch in 2004. Indeed, as the judges commented, this year was clearly the year in which bio-materials and bio-processing came to the fore in a big way.

A high proportion of the entries described innovations with renewable feedstocks, recycling or carbon capture and re-use. No fewer than seven of the 14 short-listed entries involved bio-based technologies (see ICIS Chemical Business August 1 issue).

The winner of the Innovation with Best Environmental Benefit category, sponsored by distributor U.S. Chemicals, was US start-up Novomer from Ithaca, New York. It is developing technology that allows waste carbon dioxide to be converted into polyols, such as polypropylene or polyethylene carbonate, for high-performance coatings, adhesives and composites.

Checker said any solution to the seemingly intractable problem posed by carbon dioxide was welcome, while judge Gregg Zank from Dow Corning said the Novomer innovation addressed a really big challenge. "If successful, it could have a big impact and really 'move the dial'," he said.

However, judge Roger Highfield, editor of New Scientist, questioned whether the end-use markets for the polymer were sufficiently large enough to make an important impact on the proportion of carbon emissions captured.

Judge Marcel Wubbolts of DSM said the key catalytic step enables some novel chemistry to create the polyol, which can be further reacted using well established routes. The CO2 is initially reacted with epoxides to create polymers that consist of up to 50% CO2 by weight.

Carbon capture also lies at the heart of winner LanzaTech's Best Innovation by a Small or Medium-sized Enterprise. The Auckland, New Zealand, company is developing technology to capture and reuse carbon to produce high-value chemicals and fuels.

Its central element is a modified organism that converts syngas or industrial flue gases such as steel-mill off-gases into ethanol or 2,3-butandiol. More modification allows production of chemicals such as butanol, propanol, isoprene and succinic acid, LanzaTech says.

This innovation caught the judges' eyes as it successfully incorporates synthesis-gas technology and bioprocessing to give an economically robust route to carbon capture and re-use.

Higson commented that synthesis-gas processing is receiving a lot of attention and that the LanzaTech technology can use a wide range of waste gases as feedstock for the back-end fermentation process. "It's a marriage of thermoprocessing and bio-processing that gives a flexible platform," he said.

The use of fermentation to process the off-gases, rather than Fischer-Tropsch, means a wider range of syngas composition can be tolerated in the process, Higson and Highfield said.

Zank said the technology had the potential to be disruptive in the long term, especially if LanzaTech could develop or modify the organisms further to increase the range of chemicals produced. "There is a lot of novelty here," he said.

In the Best Business Innovation category, two companies developing routes to bulk chemicals from renewable materials fought a close battle, with BioAmber eventually emerging as the winner over Genomatica. Both are US-based technology start-ups looking to use sugars and starches as inputs to produce chemical intermediates such as succinic acid and butanediols.

BioAmber won for the way it had used open innovation and technology sourcing to speed development of its bio-route to succinic acid, which is rapidly gaining interest as a versatile green intermediate. The company is ramping up capacity to demonstration scale in Thailand and Canada.

Wubbolts said that BioAmber had combined different players from along the supply chain and was a good example of open innovation. He cautioned, however, that the ­company's apparent move from E. coli to yeast fermentation is quite a fundamental change that seems challenging because of its development time lines.

In the Innovation with Best Environmental Benefit category, the judges were impressed by the way Clariant International of Switzerland had developed a more environmentally friendly leather tanning product, called EasyWhite Tan. They elected to give the company a special mention, in the words of Zank, "to recognize that Clariant is doing something significant here with an interesting innovation that has an impact on sustainability."

In the fifth category, Best Innovation for Sustainability, the judges agreed, after consideration, that none of the rather low number of entries met the high standards of innovation being sought across all three criteria of economic, social and environmental benefits.

This new category, which is sponsored by DSM, reflects a very topical concern for the chemical industry and sustainability is an area in which many leading companies are making progress. "Customers are demanding it of us as an industry," Zank said.

Indeed, as the judges commented, many of the entries to the awards involved environmental and economic advances that could be construed as part of the industry's sustainability drive. But none really set out the argument sufficiently convincingly to win the judges' approval. ICIS and DSM are committed to encouraging more and better quality entries next year, when perhaps company innovations in sustainability will be bearing more fruit.

All that leaves me to do is congratulate all the winners through the pages of this magazine, and say a big thank you to all the companies that supported the awards through their entries and sponsorship. The awards will be presented to senior representatives of the winning companies during a celebratory lunch in central London in early December.

At DSM, we are using our innovative strengths to address some of the most important trends and challenges, such as climate change, increasing energy scarcity, stretched health-care systems and hidden hunger.

Innovation at DSM is all about finding effective, sustainable and commercially viable solutions for these issues facing the world.

For instance, our breakthrough biomedical innovations are helping people lead more active and healthier lives. Another example is our successful drive to create bio-based performance materials that are helping the world switch from a fossil feedstock-dependent economy to a sustainable bio-based one.

Thus, DSM helps create brighter lives for people today and for generations to come.

DSM congratulates all the winners of the Innovation Awards for contributing smart and sustainable solutions to help solve societal challenges.

Rob van Leen
Chief innovation officer

As a founding sponsor of the ICIS Innovation Awards, we've taken great pride in supporting the achievements and contributions the chemistry industry has made to the world over the past eight years.

We continue to be impressed by the dedication and determination of our colleagues who provide a better future for all of us.

This year's entrants show that the innovation spirit is alive and well. We share their optimism in finding solutions that address megatrends such as the need for clean energy, affordable clean water and rapid urbanization shaping the world economy and mankind.

During this International Year of Chemistry, we reflect on these innovations knowing they serve as a bridge from a remarkable past (this is the 100th anniversary of Marie Curie's Nobel Prize) to the next generation of knowledge workers, educators, scientists, engineers and technicians.

We all will work closely with the business, education and government communities to spark our future innovators' imagination. We must encourage them as we depend on their future leadership in biology, chemistry, engineering and math.

To ensure success, we all have a critical role enabling the implementation of this sound science. Skills alone are not enough; we need to create the environment to nurture and advance innovations that have impact.

We know our challenges and what it will take to meet them. We must continue to create a steady, robust, well-educated and motivated scientific talent who will have impact to ensure improved quality of life and vibrant, healthy and growing economies for all.

So, Dow Corning is again honored to sponsor the ICIS Innovation Awards, not just to recognize this year's winners' accomplishments but also to celebrate the inspiration they represent and their promise for our future.

Dr. Gregg Zank
Senior vice president, chief technology officer
Dow Corning

For the third consecutive year, CRA is pleased to sponsor the ICIS Innovation Awards in the category of Best Product Innovation. Each year, we find it more difficult to identify one winner in this category as the quality of submissions continues to increase.

The diversity of submissions - from more traditional but important developments in resins and plastics to the ever-increasing number of innovations in bio-based products and processes - is reflective of the growing innovative nature of the chemical industry, which is to be encouraged and applauded.

CRA's extensive work with leading companies in technology and innovation strategy confirms that product innovation will continue to be the lifeblood of the chemical industry and that maintaining a robust product development pipeline will be a key component of compet-itive advantage.

We are pleased to acknowledge all of the short-listed candidates in the 2011 ICIS Innovation Awards, with special recognition of Teijin as the winner of the Best Product Innovation for its mass-production process for carbon reinforced plastics (CFRP).

The Japanese company's developments in this area could have a significant impact on car production and weight reduction, thus reducing emissions as well as improving fuel efficiency. This environmental aspect is increasingly being built into innovation in the chemical industry as it seeks solutions to today's global concerns.

Dr. Neil Checker
Vice president

Clariant International's EasyWhite process is the first fundamental advance in tanning for 125 years. This simpler, safer way to tan leather reduces water and chemical consumption and wastewater salinity compared with tanning based on chrome, phenols, aldehydes or vegetable extracts.

In 2006, chemists Roberta Gamarino and Licia Trimarco carried out research in Clariant's Italian R&D facility. Claus Reineking (pictured), product manager for wet end chemicals and the third member of the EasyWhite development core team, was then responsible for the technical application of output from the lab work. "We needed a good combination of theoretical and technical application specialists to successfully deliver the technology," he explains.

The result is a process based on Clariant's liquid, non-hazardous Granofin Easy F-90 synthesized organic self-reactive compound. "It uses 80% less salt and 50% less water than traditional tanning, and production times are cut from 14 to eight hours," Reineking says.

Effluent treatment is more efficient through biological processing and reverse osmosis and the company is developing technology to reuse all treated water in the process.

Application work on garment leather has started, with results confirming that EasyWhite's potential is wider than just automotive leather, opening up new opportunities for chrome-free leathers.

The ICIS Chemical Business Innovation Awards form such an important annual recognition of the leading-edge companies in the chemical industry.

Sponsoring the awards' category for Innovation with Best Environmental Benefit for the second year in a row is extremely important to U.S. Chemicals.

Novomer, this year's winner in the category, has found ways to reduce carbon emissions from fossil-fuel consumption and to be cost competitive, providing the perfect example of how to succeed in the marketplace while exemplifying the values that U.S. Chemicals is dedicated to advancing.

We congratulate Novomer and the other winners in this year's ICIS Innovation Awards and appreciate once again the opportunity to celebrate the efforts of these forward-thinking businesses.

Carol Piccaro
President and CEO
U.S. Chemicals

By: John Baker
+44 20 8652 3214

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