Issue Date: April 21, 2008
Buzzword In The Engine
As specialty chemical companies tick off growth opportunities, most get around to sustainability, a term now in fashion to describe environmental, economic, and social responsibility. Sustainability is driving product development in consumer and industrial markets. It is also behind corporate operational efficiency initiatives. Some companies claim, however, that only the term itself is new.
"We have been contributing to sustainable development efforts since long before that name was in vogue," says Stephen F. Kirk, president of Lubrizol Additives, the division of Lubrizol that markets fuel and lubricant additives. "For at least 25 years, our primary business driver has been fuel economy and emissions reductions."
That drive has accelerated over the years with stricter government standards for fuels and vehicle emissions, Kirk says, "but if you go way back, our mission statement for the additives business was to enable longer life for transport and industrial equipment while minimizing environmental impact."
Kirk says the Clean Air Act of 2007 is typical of the government regulation that will spur big changes in equipment manufacture and provide incentive for innovation in additives. Current product development in additives targets friction modification and lower viscosity oil, he says.
Sustainability efforts are a natural fit in the biocides business as well, according to Guillermo Novo, vice president of process chemicals and new platforms at Rohm and Haas. Biocides, he notes, are added to energy-efficient building materials, biodiesel fuels, ion-exchange resins, and potable-water systems. The company is working on formalizing a sustainability strategy, he says.
"We are actually doing a lot of work with a nongovernmental organization in Europe that is helping us map out the sustainable development factors that impact our business," Novo says. "We are incorporating sustainability into our business strategy and articulating why we are doing these things."
Carol Dudley, vice president of market-facing business development and licensing at Dow Chemical, pinpoints energy as the key issue in sustainability, noting that Dow has received government funding for a project to incorporate photovoltaic energy into residential and commercial buildings. In particular, Dow will develop encapsulation, adhesive, and high-volume production systems for photovoltaic roofing products.
Separately, the company is building a plant in China that will produce epichlorohydrin, an epoxy raw material, from the glycerin by-product of biodiesel production. Dow is also working on producing polyols for polyurethanes from soybeans.
Evoking the standard schematic for representing sustainability, Dudley says, "If you look at the triangle—the economic, environmental, and community drivers—we see that there are many opportunities for specialty companies to address the challenge of sustainability."
Martin Riediker, chief innovation officer at Ciba Specialty Chemicals, points to the operational aspects of the challenge. "We have met our 2006 targets for using 10% less water per ton of product and producing 10% less CO2," he says. "New for 2007–10 is a 10% increase in production of renewable energy and a 10% reduction of unused waste." At its plant in McIntosh, Ala., the company has a 2009 target for producing 20% of its energy through gasification of timber waste, he says.
Then there are the marketing opportunities, which at Ciba include antioxidants and light stabilizers that offer energy savings to automakers, and energy-saving flocculent systems for paper manufacturers.
Indeed, for specialty chemical companies, it is the end user's drive toward sustainability that is expected to generate the most business opportunity, often through collaborative research and development agreements. But ultimately, the ball is in the end user's court. "Marketing green products? We leave that to our customers," Lubrizol's Kirk says.
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