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AkzoNobel unveils global research challenge

Seeks partners to codevelop sustainable chemistries

by Alex Scott
January 18, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 4

A photo of a chemist attending to equipment in a laboratory.
Credit: AkzoNobel
AkzoNobel is seeking partners to codevelop sustainable chemistries.

If you are a career chemist, part of a research group, or start-up chemistry firm with ideas for sustainable technologies, then AkzoNobel would like to hear from you. For the next two months the Dutch multinational is inviting would-be collaborators to come forward to help it solve several environmental challenges.

The seven fields for which AkzoNobel is seeking solutions are highly reactive chemistries and technologies; sustainable alternatives to its current technologies; bio-based sources of ethylene and ethylene oxide; bio-based and biodegradable surfactants and thickeners; cellulose-based alternatives to synthetics; new plastics recycling methods; and wastewater-free chemical processes.

The initiative, named the Chemicals Start-up Challenge, will be funded from $50 million that AkzoNobel recently announced it will spend on venture capital activities. AkzoNobel will work on the initiative with the management consulting firm KPMG.

All challenges are business-driven and should go commercial in a three- to five-year time horizon, the firm says.

Potential collaborators are invited to submit their solutions on a website operated by KPMG. Teams at AkzoNobel will then work through ideas to validate and codevelop the best solutions. Anyone who registers an idea will get feedback from AkzoNobel’s chemicals experts.

After the period for applications closes on March 16, AkzoNobel will select the 20 most promising and invite their originators to participate in a three-day workshop at the firm’s Deventer innovation center in the Netherlands. The winning proposals will be announced and collaboration agreements with AkzoNobel will be signed on June 3.

“We believe open innovation will be vital, seeking ideas both internally and externally to advance our technology,” says Peter Nieuwenhuizen, research, development, and innovation director for AkzoNobel’s specialty chemical business.

Already, AkzoNobel has received proposals for converting CO2 to methanol and producing ethyl lactate—a potential building block for making surfactants and thickeners—from cheese whey or lignocellulose.



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