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Advanced materials: The Performance vs Sustainability dilemma

Advanced materials: The Performance vs Sustainability dilemma

February 3rd 1:00 pm CET

Catch & Do #10 Advanced Materials

Open discussion with Mitsubishi Chemical Advanced Materials. 

The American architect and designer R. Buckminster Fuller stated in 1974 that “Pollution is nothing but the resources we are not harvesting. We allow them to disperse because we’ve been ignorant of their value.” For the entire 20th century, innovation has led to the development of materials with higher and higher performance and complexity for a wide range of industrial fields such as Energy, Medical, Aerospace, Transports, Construction and many more… These advanced materials, at the core of every man-made good, now face the challenges of sustainability and climate change. From sourcing to end-of-life, through the entire supply chain and uses, efforts are now being made to optimize the use of natural resources and extend their value.

Henning Bloech, Global Director Sustainable Solutions at Mitsubishi Chemical Advanced Materials brought insights on the role of a global leader in advanced materials addressing a wide scope of industrial fields in driving sustainability. He will also elaborate on the challenges and opportunities of developing and implementing sustainable materials and the impact on the distribution of value along the value chain.

Henning Bloech

Global Director Sustainable Solutions 

Speakers HENNING BLOECH
Logo Mitsubishi Chemical Advanced Materials

Henning Bloech has dedicated his career to moving business towards more sustainable and healthier products and processes. He has run certification programs, led corporate sustainability strategy, and advised organizations on addressing sustainability and environmental challenges.

In 2021, Henning joined Mitsubishi Chemical Advanced Materials (MCAM) as Global Director Sustainable Solutions to execute and drive MCAMs global sustainability and circularity strategy.

Prior to his current role, Henning held various leadership positions in sustainability and environmental performance including leading the SCS Global Services business in Europe as Executive Director, heading strategy and business development of Underwriters Laboratories’ environment business in Europe and Asia as Commercial Director, developing and implementing environmental strategies for INVISTA as Global Sustainability Director, and launching the GREENGUARD Environmental Institute (GEI) as its first employee and Executive Director.

Henning Bloech is a LEED Accredited Professional and an Alliance for Water Stewardship Accredited Specialist. He was a member of the WELL® Materials Advisory, a founding member of the Green Products Roundtable (now Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council), a member of the TFM Green Buildings Advisory Board, and of the Outdoor Industry Associations Sustainability Working Group. He currently lives in Göttingen, Germany.

Henning, could you tell us more about your role at MCAM and your mission?

As global director of sustainability solutions at MCAM, I lead the development and implementation of our sustainability strategy. That includes our carbon management, our circular economy, it involves a big picture including products as well as the connections upstream and downstream in the value chain. This management approach at MCAM has a name, it is called KAITEKI (see https://www.mcam.com/en/sustainability ).

What are the main drivers to develop and implement sustainability strategies?

The first driver is at the corporate level, we simply want to do the right things which is a core philosophy at MCAM. We have of course to include the regulatory drivers which apply not only to us but to all our competitors, suppliers and customers. Particularly in Europe, there is a strong move in this direction. We are making advanced materials, this obviously involves polymers and there is a specific focus on this. Our customers are living the same thing, the same motivation towards sustainability and the same regulation applies, they also try to reduce their Carbon Footprints and they want to use sustainable materials.  Our customers are a big driver for us as well working closely with their customers and providing the solutions to meet their expectations.

  | Regulation and clients are then the key drivers for sustainability

What keeps Henning up at night?

Earlier in the webinar, we had this poll on what keeps you up at night? And we see in the picture the results. Among all the options listed, what is indeed the priority for you?

Actually, I would pick the Adoption of Sustainable Materials along the value chain, because if the whole value chain would adopt those sustainable materials it would cover ourselves but also our suppliers and customers. Ultimately it would address most of the other points. All the points are important concerns and they build one upon another, but If I had to pick one, I would choose the use of sustainable materials. 

What are the main obstacles in developing sustainable advanced materials?

What are the main obstacles in developing sustainable advanced materials?

We have conducted this poll with the audience, and from the obstacles listed here, which one would you consider as the most important.

All the issues listed here are relevant. The one I think is the least relevant is the “low level of collaboration along the value chains», there is a huge increase in the level of collaboration. Most of our suppliers are really focused on improving the environmental impact of their material, improving processes and working with us to optimize our products in the marketplace. With our customers, we are working on the implementation of circular economy and waste take-back programs. In general, the Advanced Material delivers functionality that has environmental benefits because it will improve a process and make it less burdensome from an environmental perspective.  They can last longer, or have a lower weight and then consume less energy, require less maintenance, fewer additives, all of these are benefits just from the material itself.

On the issue of performance, in some areas, indeed, we don’t have today renewable materials that can deliver equivalent performance. But in some situations, high-performance materials are used but they might not be necessarily needed and it may make a lot of sense to move towards more sustainable options. It is true also for circular material. Recycled content doesn’t necessarily lead to fewer performances.

There are different ways of being sustainable: you can work on raw materials, you can implement circular value chains, you can work on the design, source locally, ensure durability, or even track emissions along the value chain… What is the approach for the advanced materials business unit?

You are right we have a huge toolbox we are trying to use as much as we can when applicable to improve. It is mainly coming from the customer; we listen to the customer and apply whatever tools can help. We have our own goals, then there are some elements we can use internally. But this is really when you have all the actors in the value chain sitting around the table that we can analyse all the options. Can we use renewable materials? Recycled material? What is the level of performance? Is it in the application?  For example, we can deliver a self-lubricant polymer that will lead to less usage of oil or better efficiency of a motion and then less use of energy? These collaborations help us to increase the sustainability performance of our products in their applications.

We have an aggressive climate target for MCAM, the goal is to be climate neutral by the end of 2023 which is a very aggressive target. This is done by moving away from natural gas to electricity and then to renewable energy sources. We have waste goals, we want to reduce our wastes as much as we can and the rest that we have, we want to recycle.

There are a lot of tools we are internally using, and we use this knowledge for our customers.

 | Talking about recyclability, let’s talk about composite. Is it possible to produce recyclable composites?

The plastics and polymers are recyclable, they can be mechanically recycled and solutions exist.

When it comes to composite business, you need to consider what are the different parts in the composite and what you want to recycle at the end. Today, it is almost impossible to get the different materials apart from the component when they are fused together like in composite. That’s part of the innovation space: what can we do to separate them again.  In Europe, there is an industrial scale recycling facility for carbon composite materials (wind turbine blades, bicycle frames), but they recycle the carbon fibres which is the most valuable material. The epoxy that is around disappearing in the process. It is not completely lost since it is turned into energy but that’s not recycling, and it is a big challenge. Start-ups or incubators can play an important role here.

 | Composites are hard to recycle but reducing weight, for example, leads to less energy consumption. Can we  balance the environmental benefit and the performance which is ultimately our topic?

In some applications such as automotive, you are right, this is intuitive, the lighter the material, the less fuel you will use in a car or a plane. To calculate the benefit, you need to perform a life cycle assessment. We perform a lifecycle assessment ourselves, but we start to work with our customers on this lifecycle assessment of our products in use. Then you have a good database as a foundation.

When you have an advanced material in use, this is because you want to solve a particular issue, and this has most of the time a positive environmental impact. Self-lubricating polymers, already mentioned are one example, the key now is to get the data to determine the environmental benefit in the long term.

 | There is also this issue of track and trace

We are working with our customers on this. We have the recycling facility, we just don’t know how to get the materials back. We want to completely close that loop.

What are the primary markets of adoption of renewable/recycled materials?

Biobased materials or circular materials can address many markets. But there are regulatory limitations. Food contact materials are very specific and there must be a very closely tracked “recycling and waste” loop but this is a challenge. The other one is medical applications. In artificial hips and shoulders, you don’t want recycled materials and you won’t get back these materials either.

 | The regulation can speed up the transition, but can it slow down the process?

The EU regulation is accelerating the transition. It helps the consumer to know what is in the product and it helps the producer to understand where the hot spots are and where improvements are possible. Mandating a minimum amount of recycled material in packaging really pushes the industry forward.  They may not like that, but it undeniably moves them forward. From MCAM perspective we actually want to be ahead and we want to do more than what the regulation says.

Let's talk about the innovation gaps. What should be developed?

There are several challenges. Recycling infrastructures, as well as tracking and tracing, are both challenges that can be solved through technology. That’s something that other professionals are struggling with as well. It’s easy to develop a recycling infrastructure when you have one application and customers working in the same market. It becomes much more complex when you are like MCAM, in the middle of the value chain, serving thousands of applications in hundreds of industries. It makes the take-back and recycling really complex.

When we get something, we need to know where it’s coming from, you want to make sure that no substances of very high concern are involved. This is a risk assessment and compliance that takes time. The more you track and trace the more streamlined is your take-back and recycling system.

CATCH & DO TANK

Catch&DO by BLUMORPHO is a series of inspiring sessions which invite the audience to shape its mind on key innovative topics. Too often Innovation is packaged into keywords, if not buzzwords. But what does it mean in real life? What does it mean in terms of execution and value ? We invite you to CATCH the idea to pull the trigger and turn concepts into action and DO the right thing.