ICIS Innovation Awards: A winning performance

Author: John Baker


This year’s top chemical industry innovations as judged by the ICIS Innovation Awards can now be revealed. The successful entries illustrate innovation across a wide range of products and processes, and bring many benefits

Huntsman Textile Effects has earned top slot in this year’s ICIS Innovation Awards for far-reaching innovation in reactive textile dyes. The development, it says, helps confront the textile industry’s sustainability challenges.


 A winning performance

Copyright: Rex Features

The innovation, already making an impact in the market as AVITERA SE, cuts water and energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions by 50% and reduces salt consumption by 25%. It is based on novel poly-reactive dyes that ensure rapid, very high exhaustion and fixation when dying cotton and its blends.

The judges (see panel) were unanimous in the selection of Huntsman as the winner of the 2014 Awards, sponsored overall by 
Roland Berger Strategy Consultants and by U.S. Chemicals, as a category sponsor. They also nominated Huntsman’s entry as the best innovation in the category for environmental and sustainability benefit.

As judge Pascal Juery of Solvay noted, “The Huntsman claims represent quite a breakthrough. The numbers on [environmental] footprint reduction are very impressive.” And Peter Williams of INEOS Technology said addressing the major issue of water consumption was important. “We need dyes and textiles but have long recognised that there are problems with water use in this sector. This [innovation] addresses a major issue.”

The panel of judges also expressed the view that the Huntsman initiative has a wide ranging impact and tells a strong positive story to communicate to the public.

In their deliberations, the judges were looking for innovations that were at or very close to commercialisation and that fulfilled a need or created a new need or market. The innovations also needed to be creative and relevant to the market.

Importantly, they argued, innovation should be regarded as the transformation of knowledge into money; in other words, that innovation is much more than just research and development, but has crucial commercial and economic aspects.


Neil Checker, from sponsor Roland Berger and also on the judging panel, commented that he looks for four or five things – is the innovation new to the world, or an enhancement; is it exciting – to the industry but also with the public; what is the commercial potential and market relevance; and does it involve a number of partners or collaborators along the value chain? These days, he added, the environmental and corporate social responsibility aspects of innovations are a given.

Textile innovation is in vogue
Textile innovations featured widely in this year’s Awards entries and another impressive development in this sector took the award for Best Product Innovation.

Solvay’s entry for its Emana polyamide fibre, which contains an additive that converts the wearer’s body heat into physiologically beneficial far-infrared radiation, was deemed to have a strong scientific element to it and also to show innovative marketing of the innovation.

Developed by Solvay in Brazil, the business there is promoting the Emana brand to consumers in sports and high-performance clothing as well as in jeans, extolling the virtues of the fibre directly to the public through advertising and trade and fashion shows.

All of the judges liked this innovation and it sparked a lively debate. Judge Jacques Komornicki of Cefic said “it looks like a great innovation and a strong marketing opportunity.” He felt the effects on the wearer would be good in sports clothing, but questioned perhaps the benefits in cosmetic clothing applications.

Peter Williams added that there “was real science behind the development and it was making an impact on the market. It looks like a nice-to-have for the consumer and attractive to certain segments of consumers.”

In their discussions of the Best Product Innovation category, the judges also rated highly the entry by Clariant, for its heat-generating material (HGM) to improve yields in on-purpose olefins production, in terms of the science behind the development and the benefits it yields in the Catofin process. As several pointed out, it looked much more relevant to the Best Process Innovation category, and after deliberation it was agreed to award it a special mention in this category (see box story).

Peter Nagler of Evonik said he thought the HGM development had been done well by Clariant and has solved an issue with the process and improved the yield at the cost of sacrificing a little of the hydrogen produced.

In the Best Process Innovation category itself, reintroduced this year after a few years’ absence, the development of the Advanced methanol-to-olefins (MTO) process driven by Honeywell UOP but also involving INEOS and Total, took the top slot by a good margin, although the Axens/Total/IFPEN and Contract Chemicals/Bayer entries were also both well-regarded.

The Honeywell UOP development was adjudged to have significant potential impact in the marketplace and to be timely given the changing trends in global petrochemical feedstocks away from naphtha to coal and natural gas. Neil Checker at Roland Berger commented that credit also had to be given to the persistence of the partners in the development.

“Important, large scale process developments do not happen overnight”, he noted, “and some take many years and involve large investments in pilot and demonstration units.” He looked back to a previous ICIS award winner Lucite, which he said had also shown persistence in the development of its new methylmethacrylate (MMA) process.

SME wins with TIO2 process
Last, but not least, the Best Innovation by a Small or Medium-sized Enterprise (SME) also prompted some vigorous discussion, but in the end the Argex Titanium entry found wide favour, given its potential to lower costs in the production of titanium dioxide pigment and the fact that the company is moving into production and signed offtake deals and appointed a distributor. Argex Technology is claimed to present a cost effective alternative route to the white pigment, replacing the conventional sulphate or chloride routes.

The other two nominees in this category, Liquid Light and Sirrus, were both at the very early stages of development and the judges felt they needed to show more progress and develop their routes to market before they could be considered for an award.

You can read much more about the winning entries in the following pages of this special publication, which also features articles prepared with our sponsors. Roland Berger airs its emerging thoughts on Industry 4.0 and what this might mean for innovation and the chemical industry, and U.S. Chemicals looks at what it takes to develop a sustainable approach to business.

Much more can be found on the Awards web site, at www.icis.com/awards, which has details of all short-listed entries and an archive of articles on the winners over the 11 years of the ICIS Innovation Awards.

ICIS congratulates all this year’s winning companies and thanks our sponsors, the judges and all those companies who supported the competition with entries. It would also like to make clear that judges who had an affiliation with any of the short-listed companies absented themselves from the decision-making process when the panel of judges was deciding the winners in each category.

Best Process Innovation: Special Mention Clarient


 Oviol: saving on external heat input

Clariant has introduced a new concept – Heat Generating Material (HGM) – to the Catofin process that increases the olefin yield and reduces carbon emissions.

The shale gas boom in the US has changed the olefins market. Lower natural gas prices and increased supply has led cracker operators to switch to a lighter feed and consequently produce less propylene and higher olefins.

“That has driven the need for on-purpose olefin technologies and this specific technology fits that need,” says Lorena Oviol, global product manager dehydrogenation, Clariant.

The Catofin process is a dehydrogenation reaction. This is endothermic and heat input to the catalyst bed has been a limiting factor. “There’s only so much yield you can get because there’s only so much heat that can be put in externally,” says Oviol. “The idea behind HGM was how can we put heat into the bed and save on external heat input.”

HGM is a metal oxide material that is loaded into the catalyst bed with the catalyst. It is oxidised and reduced during the process. This produces heat inside the catalyst bed where it drives the dehydro-genation reaction.

It significantly reduces the quantity of heat that needs to be supplied by high temperature air supply and also establishes a more favourable catalyst bed temperature profile. This increases olefin selectivity and consequently the yield, while also saving energy and reducing CO2 emissions.

HGM was developed in-house at Clariant’s US R&D centre at Louisville, Kentucky, and took 10 years to develop.

“Five, 10 or even 15 years is not unusual to develop a product that really innovates a process,” says Helge Toufar, head of the Louisville R&D Centre, part of Clariant’s catalysts business unit. “You have to think in that time frame if you want to be successful.”

Clariant has a strict process for screening and evaluating potential projects. The level of innovation, market impact and potential return on investment are all considered.

“In some cases like here, we have been in the position that Clariant has a strong market position in the field and the economic outlook is strong. So, although we have a long-term horizon, this is a development that needs to be pursued,” says Toufar.

Overall Sponsor: Roland Berger Strategy Consultants
Commitment to Improving Innovation

Roland Berger is honoured to continue in its role of overall sponsor of this prestigious awards programme, as well as sponsor of the Best Product Innovation category. Our sponsorship supports our commitment to helping clients develop and improve their innovation capabilities from innovation strategy through to implementation of innovation processes and organisation structures.

Roland Berger has a competence centre focused on innovation management – Innovation and Product Engineering (IPE) – and this team leads projects and develops thought leadership on this critical area, leveraging the cross-industry and global experience of the firm.

The consultancy advises leading corporations, non-profit organisations and public institutions on management issues ranging from strategy development to performance improvement. Roland Berger’s business is organised into global functional and industry competence centres. Its practice areas include corporate and business unit strategy, marketing and sales, innovation strategy and management, operations strategy, restructuring and corporate finance and mergers and acquisitions advisory.

Industry specialties include energy and chemicals, automotive, consumer goods, retail, engineered products and high-tech, financial services, information communications, pharmaceuticals and health care, public services and transportation.

Dr Neil Checker
Partner, Roland Berger Strategy Consultants


Category Sponsor: U.S. Chemicals
Creative Approach to the Environment

For the past five years, U.S. Chemicals has been honoured to sponsor the Best Environmental Benefit category. We are pleased this year to see the category widened to include innovations that support and drive sustainability innovation as well, in line with our own company philosophy.

Serving the needs of the chemical industry for over 50 years, U.S. Chemicals LLC combines quality, innovation and service like none other. U.S. Chemicals has built a team of industry experts that thoroughly understands the complexities of the chemical industry and includes experts at material sourcing and acquisition.

U.S. Chemicals serves as a single source for the chemical acquisition needs of many industry sectors, including paint, ink and coatings; chemicals and textiles; cosmetic and personal care products; flame retardants; food and pharmaceutical; plastic; and rubber. It offers prompt delivery from multiple warehouse locations throughout the US.

Its world-wide network of resources assures customers of highly competitive pricing, optimum quality and consistency, and rapid worry-free sourcing and delivery.

Carol Piccaro
President and CEO, 
U.S. Chemicals


Dr Neil Checker
Neil is a partner at Roland Berger Strategy Consultants and part of the global chemicals leadership team, based out of the firm’s Dusseldorf office.

Neil has over 30 years of industry and consulting experience in the chemicals and process industries

Pascal Juery
Pascal is a member of the executive committee of Solvay. He joined France’s Rhone-Poulenc in 1988 and became head of Rhodia’s Novecare business and a Rhodia executive committee member.

He is a graduate of the European Business School of Paris (ESCP)

Dr Peter Nagler
Peter is chief innovation officer at Evonik Industries and was previously head of Corporate Innovation Strategy & Management. He joined Degussa after studying chemistry at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe-University and biochemistry at the University of Nice

Dr Jacques Komornicki
Jacques is innovation manager at Cefic, the European Chemical Industry Council, and represents the SusChem European Technology Platform for the chemical industry. He has a PhD in chemistry and has worked for 30 years in R&D with Arkema and its predecessors

Dr Peter Williams
Peter was appointed CEO of INEOS Technologies in 2006 when the business was created as part of INEOS. Prior to joining INEOS, he worked for BP for 23 years in numerous leadership positions in both the UK and France. He has a DPhil in chemistry from the University of York