The chemicals industry is standing on the brink of a new era of innovation. The development of products based on fossil resources such as synthetic plastics and fibers has run its course and people are becoming increasingly concerned about resource use and product disposal. This is driving a shift to more “circular” chemistry involving the increased use of renewable energy and raw materials and the manufacture of more sustainable products.
This means that as an industry and as a company we have to refocus our innovation activities. We can only work on new products or processes if they have an improved sustainability profile. We also have to become more open and collaborative in our approach; no one company can be expected to have all the answers, so we have to bring extra capabilities into our organization by working with universities, startup firms, and other third parties.
This open approach has been the driving force behind our Imagine Chemistry collaborative innovation program, where we work with startups, scale-ups, university spin-outs, and others as equal partners to bring their technologies to market and push the frontiers of sustainable innovation. The 2019 edition, which closed for submissions this week, focuses on challenges ranging from bio-based surfactants – organized with our partner Unilever – to sensing in demanding chemical environments.
We have been overwhelmed by the number and quality of the submissions as well as the geographic spread this year - we received 162 submissions from 30 countries, led by China, the US, and the UK. The Imagine Chemistry team is looking forward to working with the finalists over the next few months in preparation for the finals event at our RD&I site in Deventer, the Netherlands in May.
Since its inception, Imagine Chemistry has generated more than 500 solutions and several of these are already entering the commercial phase. Some key examples include Semiotic Labs, which uses machine learning and proprietary sensors to predict when and why equipment fails; and Invert Robotics, which provides safer, non-destructive inspection services using state-of-the-art mobile climbing robots.
For the coming year, we will focus on a Go-to-Market program to make sure that even more of these ideas reach commercialization. For example, we have several ongoing projects with Imagine Chemistry partners focused on bio-based raw materials which have the potential to replace fossil-based products and substantially enhance our sustainability profile.
We already have an enviable track record in sustainable innovations; over 45% of our products provide customer sustainability benefits. Putting even greater focus on innovation through initiatives such as Imagine Chemistry will help us develop the essential solutions our customers need and lead the way to a more sustainable chemicals industry.