InterviewAkzoNobel aims to cut use of petchem feedstocks - VIDEO

07 February 2012 14:38  [Source: ICIS news]

By Will Beacham

LONDON (ICIS)--AkzoNobel aims to significantly cut its usage of petrochemical and energy-intensive feedstocks - such as titanium dioxide (Ti02) - over the next 10 years, senior executives at the world’s largest coatings company said on Tuesday.

As AkzoNobel seeks to follow global megatrends by adopting more efficient use of natural resources and energy, the majority of its research and development spend is now focused on sustainability, according to the company’s CEO Hans Wijers and chief innovation officer, Graeme Armstrong.

Wijers told ICIS: “It’s about globalisation and sustainability. These are the key drivers as we try to develop products and processes that answer the questions of tomorrow. 60% of our R&D is geared towards finding sustainability solutions because they benefit society, give direct benefits to our customers, and give us a high margin.”

Armstrong said a key priority is finding alternatives to petrochemical-based feedstocks: “There must be a better way to make materials with a lower carbon footprint and have lower demand on fossil materials.

"We’re very active with alternatives in our resins field and looking to replace petroleum-based materials with renewable-based materials. This won’t happen overnight. It won’t be a 3-5 year transition as it will take a decade or so. It’s all about functionality.”

He said the company is looking first at resins which have a higher carbon footprint for which it is seeking renewable alternatives. AkzoNobel’s basic resin for decorative paints are latex feedstocks such as vinyl acrylics, full acrylics and styrene acrylic-based latexes. Feedstocks for performance coatings include both liquid and solid epoxy materials plus polyesters.

“Ti02 uses an awful lot of energy. Nature makes very white surfaces from a material based on nanofibres. Can we model or mimic it?  We’re posing the challenges. We’re not saying to Ti02 producers, 'We don’t want to work with you,' but there might be a better solution.”

Feedstock price hikes are also a key driver of product substitution for AkzoNobel. In 2010 the company spent €5.3bn ($7.0bn) on raw materials. But they have now moved from being around 10% to 20% of its total costs.

“Because of the scarcity of certain metals and other factors it has gone up. It’s now an enormous element of costs, particularly on decorative paints,” said Wijers.

AkzoNobel has changed its relationships with key suppliers in its drive for accelerated innovation. Wijers said: “In the past three years on the purchasing side we have fundamentally changed our relationships with major suppliers from an opportunistic buying relationship to a strategic partnership situation.

“Apart from sharing long term trends about demand we also share innovation and R&D programmes. So it’s not just the person responsible for sourcing that sits around the table with our strategic suppliers but also Graeme Armstrong who will discuss our research programmes with companies like BASF.”

He added:  “At Davos it was the Dows, DuPonts and BASFs [of this world] which were talking about these trends. It is the industry rather than politicians at this time who are leading the journey towards a more sustainable society. You have to invest now to achieve in 5-10 years.”

Asked for his advice to the chemical industry, Wijers said: “Open up, cooperate; no company can do this by itself. In the end we have to work together to achieve a paradigm shift. Those that participate in this paradigm shift will be the winners of the future. Those companies will be growing and still be sitting round the table in 15-20 years from now.”

Wijers and Armstrong are in London for an AkzoNobel innovation day, where a partnership with the University of Manchester was unveiled.

($1 = €0.76)

By: Will Beacham
+44 20 8652 3214

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