Renewable raw materials: “The economy of scale should take care of the price-issue
Where do you see trends in sustainable raw materials for coatings?
Dr Toine Biemans: We believe that the use of renewable materials in binders for the coatings industry will continue to grow. On the one hand, more new renewable raw materials are becoming available and at the same time institutional research towards the use of these raw materials has picked up. This is a welcome and almost necessary development for industry because a lot of these materials are not drop-in alternatives but they are new molecules (for our industry) with different properties and behaviour that need to be investigated. To commercialise these new raw materials successfully, there needs to be a value chain in place.
My industry would have a use for these raw materials, but the regular supply of the bio-based starting materials needs to be secured as well as the industrial conversion into the renewable raw material. When these elements are in place and functioning, the economy of scale should take care of the price-issue that is currently often hemming a commercial success.
When using renewable resources, one problem can be caused by a competition with the production of food. What approaches are there to avoid this problem?
Biemans: We know of at least two ways to avoid this problem. Firstly, we can use the arable land for industrial crop when it is not in use for food production. There are so called fallow periods, the periods between two crops, which can be long enough for another crop to grow. A second possibility is using mixed intercropping. Here, two compatible crops are completely mixed on the same land, where one can be used for food production, the other for industrial use. The crops can be selected in such a way, that there can be additional environmental benefits like reduced use of pesticides.
We have successfully practiced both these techniques ourselves and have now commercialised one route and set up a value chain by talking to regional farmers, using a local oil mill and involving an equally minded customer.
Where do you see the main advantages and disadvantages of these two approaches?
Biemans: The first approach, employing fallow periods, entails easier harvesting and does not disturb any further processes. However, it is not possible to take advantage of any synergies, for instance less weeds can occur when planting several plants – which means less need for pesticides.
Dr Toine Biemans, Worlée-Chemie
The main advantage of intercropping is that there are still gaps between harvest which means that the farmland is able to recover. A drawback is that the seeds need to be divided.
In addition to cost, what do you see as the main challenges in the usage of renewable materials in coatings?
Biemans: The main challenge will be to convert existing, petrochemical based products to renewable material based products with the same application properties. As long as there are no drop-in renewable raw materials, we have to expect different properties. To re-design the final product in such a way that the customer can exchange it 1 to 1, requires a detailed understanding of the bio-based ingredients and how they influence the desired and required properties. Here we are very much dependent on the institutional research that is being performed at many excellent universities.
Nevertheless, it would be extremely helpful if the respective governments would make available sufficient funds to boost research programs that favour academic-industrial collaboration. Especially for the many larger medium sized companies that may not fulfil an SME definition but are too small to fund such research by themselves. Herein lies a large potential for innovation.
Interview by Vanessa Bauersachs