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CEOs of Bayer, BASF pitch to Davos attendees

Chemical executives discuss the promise of gene editing and low-carbon chemical production

by Melody M. Bomgardner
January 23, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 4


This photo shows Bayer's Baumann speaking at the World Economic Forum.
Credit: World Economic Forum
Werner Baumann, CEO of Bayer

The CEOs of Bayer and BASF traveled to Davos, Switzerland, for this year’s World Economic Forum to tout the chemical industry’s solutions to global health and environmental problems.

Bayer CEO Werner Baumann participated on a panel provocatively named “When Humankind Overrides Evolution.” The wide-ranging discussion covered the potential for innovations in gene therapy and gene editing to cure disease, improve the well-being of animals and wildlife, and produce more nutritious crops.

One focus was on engaging with regulators, politicians, and the public about new technologies and how they can best be used. Baumann said European politicians understand genetic advances and their possible benefits. He called on them to stop folding to public-fear campaigns and instead create a legal environment where new technology can come to market.

Baumann also called for transparency. “There is less and less trust in society for advances in technology,” he said. The way for industry to address it, he argued, is to do a better job “of explaining what we are doing, what it is that we would do, where the red lines are, and where we actively solicit regulators and broader societal discussion of what we should and should not do.”

The promise of technology to improve traditional chemical manufacturing was also on the agenda in Davos. BASF CEO Martin Brudermüller joined Solvay CEO Ilham Kadri on a panel about decarbonizing heavy industries. Brudermüller set the stage for his remarks with an article on the World Economic Forum’s website.

Brudermüller writes that Europe’s chemical industry reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 58% between 1990 and 2017 through operational efficiency. But further reductions will require breakthroughs in technology and huge investments in renewable energy capacity. He also called for industry to capture unavoidable CO2 emissions and use renewable or recycled feedstocks.

BASF is one of more than two dozen members of the forum’s Chemical and Advanced Materials Industry platform. The group’s aims include collaborating on low-carbon-emitting technologies, making sustainable chemistry innovation mainstream, and digitizing operations and value chains.



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