19 October 2012 09:45 [Source: ICB]
The winners of the ICIS Innovation Awards 2012 cover a broad spectrum of innovation, from a water-saving technology for denim production to classical polymer development, rare earth recycling and novel CO catalysis
Congratulations go to Swiss specialty chemical company Clariant for its Advanced Denim development, which not only took the overall award, but also won the category for Innovation with Best Environmental Benefit, sponsored by distributor U.S. Chemicals.
The judges (see below) were impressed by the scale of the benefits derived from the innovation and the science involved - not only a new blue dye, but also two new processes. They also noted that the innovation tells a compelling and publicly accessible story on how the chemical industry is providing solutions to today's global problems - in this case, the growing shortage of water.
The key to the Clariant innovation is a simplification of the finishing and dyeing of denim, a fabric that accounts for some 14% of world cotton production. The innovation uses novel sulphur dyes instead of indigo, which enables the number of treatment stages to be greatly reduced.
Clariant estimates that if its technology were used in 25% of denim production, it could save 62m m3 of water consumption a year, equivalent to the water needs of 1.7m people. The process also cuts wastewater treatment, energy consumption and the carbon dioxide footprint of the denim product. Full details are given in an interview with Clariant on page 27.
Awards judge Alexander Farina of Shell Chemicals summed up the overall response to the Clariant entry when he commented that "it really stands out in terms of impact and has a good business case." For judge Gregg Zank of Dow Corning, the Clariant innovation is a typical example of an innovation providing a sustainable solution to a growing concern, but where "the customer will never see the difference in the jeans."
RARE EARTH RECYCLING
The winner in the Best Innovation for Sustainability, sponsored for the first time this year by global polymer producer Bayer MaterialScience, also addresses a growing global concern - the increasing difficulty of sourcing rare earth elements for use in many advanced products such as consumer electronics, electric vehicles and renewable energy sources.
France's Rhodia, now part of the Solvay group of Belgium, has been looking at ways to recover these scarce metallic elements from consumer waste - in effect creating what it calls an "urban mine". As a first example, it has established a recovery and recycling scheme that takes discarded low energy light bulbs and recovers the rare earths used in the phosphor coating on the inside of the bulb.
The process takes these to where they can be reused to make more light bulbs, thus establishing a sustainable closed-loop process. In the Coleop'Terre project, the recovered phosphor powder is processed at Saint Fons in France, then shipped to La Rochelle to produce pure rare earth compounds, then phosphor precursors. This also considerably reduces the need for landfill disposal of the light bulbs. Rhodia is already looking at how the technology can be applied to recover rare earths from magnets and batteries.
Zank was impressed with the overall concept of the innovation and the degree of difficulty overcome in the process. "It also looks to be a good business model", he noted. Given the political and trade issues surrounding rare earths because of the prominence of China in their production, the concept of an urban mine in Europe to make their use more sustainable is inevitably going to attract plenty of attention.
CATALYST FOR CO CONVERSION
The successful entry in the Best Innovation by a Small and Medium-Sized enterprise (SME) category also had a strong environmental angle. Indeed, the winner, US-based technology start-up Novomer, won the category for Innovation with Best Environmental Benefit last year with its homogeneous catalysis process to combine carbon monoxide and ethylene oxide (EO) to produce propiolactone.
This can then be used to produce a range of useful intermediates, such as acrylic acid, acrylate esters, butanediol and tetrahydrofuran and succinic acid, at reduced cost and with a lower carbon footprint.
This year, Novomer was chosen for the way it has developed a novel idea of how this technology can be brought to market. Its vision is to provide a cost-effective way of transporting acrylic acid around the world in the form of low-molecular weight polypropiolactone (PPL), which decomposes to give glacial acetic acid at temperatures above 200oC.
Most of the judges were impressed with Novomer's technology, its versatility and the way it is proposing to use it in innovative ways. Judge Hans-Wilhelm Engels of Bayer MaterialScience commented that "they are addressing a really big technology platform here with propiolactone and acrylic acid I'm really impressed."
Judge Neil Checker added that the way Novomer is looking for adjacent growth for itself and the process through the novel acrylic acid transport proposal is interesting.
The Best Product Innovation category, sponsored by Roland Berger Strategy Consulting, was well supported and closely fought, but in the end the judges declared Dow Chemical the winner this year, for its sustained development of INFUSE olefin block copolymers. These sophisticated polymers are produced with a proprietary catalyst system that enables the polyolefin's properties to be closely tailored in a single reactor.
A patent-pending chain shuttling agent transfers growing chains of polymer between two distinct catalysts so that soft blocks of flexible polymer are blended in a controlled manner with hard blocks of high-melting point polymer. This allows the creation of combinations of properties that have hitherto proved unattainable.
The resulting copolymers are finding a wide range of uses amongst a diverse set of customers, uses such as food contact containers, sporting and recreational goods, consumer grips, toys, flooring, adhesives and hygiene.
The judges commented on the fact that this is a good example of classical product development, with Dow showing resolve over time to bring the products to the market - not an easy process in the crowded commodity polymers sector. But they also liked the fact that many of the end use applications have evidently been developed in close partnership between Dow and its customers.
Judge Steve Fletcher commented that he wasn't sure whether the innovation was truly disruptive or incremental, "but if incremental it is surely rather big they have developed a product with better properties for a whole range of applications. I've not got a problem with customers helping with innovation." Engels added that he viewed the development "as a technology platform that Dow can build on for future developments."
In the fifth award category of Best Business Innovation, sponsored by Shell Chemicals, the judges decided after some discussion not to make an award this year - see above.
This year's panel of judges certainly had a high quality of short-listed entries to consider. All four awarded categories had several candidates that were in with a chance. So, to the winners, ICIS offers well-deserved congratulations.
The Awards will be presented in London in early December at a special lunch with the winners, sponsors and judges. You can learn more about the winning entries and the sponsors' ideas on innovation in the following pages, through interviews with key executives of all the companies involved.
Our hope is that their stories will spur your innovation efforts and show just what is possible and how innovation can be a force for good, both for company growth and in tackling the world's societal problems.
Overall sponsor Dow Corning
Overall sponsor Dow Corning
At Dow CORNING, "We help you invent the future." In fact, we have been doing so for nearly 70 years.
And while I'm very proud of the work we've done to enhance the lives of people throughout the globe through our innovative products, I'm inspired by the formidable challenges ahead of us. And while these challenges are significant, there is excitement in this quest and growing optimism grounded in our industry's history of finding solutions through its unbridled focus on innovation.
Our journey toward the future will be guided by chemists, scientists and engineers charging forward with new approaches to innovation and the development of new products that enrich people's lives and benefit the environment, all while enabling our businesses and employees to thrive. As it has for decades, chemistry will continue to be a primary driver for growth and sustainable development.
Dow Corning sponsors the ICIS Innovation Awards because we understand chemistry's role in inventing the future. These Awards offer a front-row seat to the future, and more than ever, the world needs the game-changing innovation that only the chemical industry can deliver. We congratulate all this year's winners.
Dr Gregg Zank,
senior VP, chief technology officer, Dow Corning
Category sponsor Roland Berger Strategy Consultants
Roland Berger's sponsorship of the ICIS Innovation Awards' Best Product Innovation is reflective of our commitment to and investment in the chemical sector, and reflects our consulting services advising clients over a range of areas from innovation and technology-led organic growth to acquisition support, portfolio and business unit performance improvement and organisational design.
We are pleased to recognise Dow Chemical and its INFUSE technology as the winner of the Best Product Innovation category this year. The innovation represents an exciting addition to the elastomeric polymer materials and systems available to a variety of market sectors. Our congratulations to Dow and all the other winners this year.
Dr Neil Checker
Partner, Roland Berger Strategy Consultants
Category sponsor Bayer MaterialScience
Sustainability and innovation are inextricably linked and never more so when we look at the winning entry in the category we sponsor - Best Innovation for Sustainability.
Rhodia, part of the Solvay group, has developed an initiative which stands out not just as a thoroughly excellent concept in "urban mining" but one which captures the spirit of sustainability by going back to concept of effective recycling.
Everything we do at Bayer MaterialScience is driven by innovation. Like Rhodia, we are acutely aware there also has to be a benefit to society, whether it is a new process that demands less energy or a new product which delivers further environmental benefits.
Sustainable business also has to be profitable business. We believe that the subject of sustainable development is itself developing and will continue to do so as we make more technological breakthroughs.
Chief sustainability officer, Bayer MaterialScience
Category sponsor Shell Chemicals
For more than 80 years, Shell Chemicals has been a leading player in the manufacture and sale of bulk petrochemicals to large industrial customers. Innovation is at heart of everything we do.
We continuously seek to improve our manufacturing processes, maximise yields, minimise energy use and reduce waste.
We create innovative products and technical solutions to meet customers' needs and position us as an attractive partner for growth. We also invest to develop next-generation technologies that could use new sources of feedstocks, at a lower cost and with reduced environmental impact.
Our constant need to innovate has delivered the proprietary processes and powerful catalysts that give us a competitive edge in our core markets. But, we recognise that innovation goes beyond traditional product and process development - we also look at how we can innovate in the way we do business: our service offerings to customers, partnerships with suppliers, route-to-market, or supply chain and operations.
General manager, chemicals strategy
Category sponsor U.S.Chemicals
U.S. Chemicals has been a loyal and enthusiastic participant in the ICIS Chemical Business Innovation Awards for several years now. We are proud to be part of the mega-trend movement towards green solutions with the many participants in this category. We acknowledge this is an important annual recognition for leading edge companies.
We also see this as a challenge for our own company. This challenge is critical for the chemical industry and should ultimately lead to a tipping point that will benefit all of us.
U.S. Chemicals applauds the companies participating in the Innovation Awards and ICIS for laying down the gauntlet. Our congratulations to go to Clariant as the overall winner this year.
President and CEO, U.S. Chemicals
WHY NO WINNER THIS YEAR?
THE BEST Business Innovation category, sponsored by Shell Chemicals for the first time this year, was introduced to reflect the fact that innovation is not just about products and processes but also encompasses the way companies do business internally and with their customers and partners.
Previous winners have included BioAmber, Huntsman Advanced Materials and DSM. All three showed innovation either in the way they organised their innovation effort - for example, BioAmber, with its open innovation approach to speed the pace of product development - or in the way they developed new approaches to speed the uptake of their innovations.
As Alexander Farina of sponsor Shell Chemicals notes: "Coming up with new business solutions should be as important as technological or product development. Business innovation can add value and drive the right solutions to customers, and the industry."
Shell, he says, recognises that innovation goes beyond traditional product and process development. "We also look at how we can innovate in the way we do business. Our service offerings to customers, partnerships with suppliers, route to market or supply chain and operations."
This year, although there were two very strong innovators short-listed for the category - Genomatica and Solazyme - the panel of judges felt that neither entry squarely met the criteria of the category.
Farina called on industry players not only to focus on "conventional" innovation, but to take full advantage of the potential value from business innovations. "Technological innovation often involves huge time and monetary outlay, but business innovation could bring big effect from small investments," he explained.
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