Interview: “The Green Deal has added new impetus”
For what kind of applications do you see the largest potential for bio-based coatings in both the short and long terms?
Dickon Purvis: Covestro is committed to becoming fully circular, so our goal is to create circular solutions for every application; coating solutions based on renewable feedstocks are a key part of that vision and also underline our commitment to achieving the UN Sustainability Development Goals. This focus is further strengthened by our recent acquisition of the Resins & Functional Materials business unit of Royal DSM.
By doing so, we have expanded our portfolio of sustainable coating raw materials, primarily with additional water-borne products as well as raw materials for more sustainable powder and UV-curable coatings. Currently, the automotive industry and certain industrial coatings sectors are leading the charge for bio-based coatings. However, even in segments where the need for coatings from alternative feedstocks is less keenly felt, we expect that demand will grow in the coming years.
From your point of view as raw materials supplier, what are the main hurdles to overcome for bio-based products to get into the market?
Purvis: The challenges that suppliers face in trying to promote partially renewable materials in the market are threefold. The first is the perceived value of coatings based on alternative feedstocks; there is a strong expectation that renewable solutions should be similarly priced despite the additional costs and consumer benefits that such solutions offer.
The second is the requirement imposed by customers to show that the partially renewable feedstocks genuinely come with improved sustainability over the whole product life cycle. In this respect, some research needs to be done on improving the biodegradability of products which are likely to be exposed to waste water after use. The third and final challenge is that of market need; those industries whose key players have defined their own circularity targets have experienced faster take-up in the sector as a whole. Where that is not yet the case, take-up is noticeably weaker. However, legislation, such as the European Green Deal, has added new impetus, even in more traditional industries.
Bio-based is not automatically sustainable. How do you ensure that your products are derived from sustainable feedstocks?
Purvis: We are well aware that alternative raw materials, such as partially bio-based – and, in the future, waste-based products – require more attention to be paid to their sourcing than those produced entirely from petrochemical feedstocks. Covestro regards adherence to sustainability standards within the supply chain as a crucial factor in value creation and also an important lever for minimising risks. For this reason, our company sets not only economic standards but also social, ethical and ecological standards. These standards also apply to the supply chain for bio-based raw materials.
The extraction of biomass as well as the production of bio-based materials made from them must be done in an environmentally and socially responsible manner. It all starts with the selection of biomass; while first-generation biomass, such as glucose from sugar cane or corn, is readily available at competitive prices, a second generation of biomass feedstock from waste materials, such as lignin, is currently being developed, with the aim of implementing more cost-efficient and responsible production technologies. Another key success factor for the market acceptance of bio-based materials is collaboration along the value chain.
In the future, we also intend to introduce mass balancing for bio-based raw materials for which third-party certification of the full supply chain, including Covestro, is mandatory and will create transparency. We are currently working on obtaining ISCC Plus certification, which we also request from our suppliers of bio-based products. A certified supply chain ensures high sustainability standards for our raw materials with regard to ecological and social issues.