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bioplasticsMAGAZINE_0903

Interview From Punk to

Interview From Punk to Evergreen An unusual review of bioplastics development A few weeks ago, when the new board of European Bioplastics was elected, Dr. Harald Kaeb, the previous chairman, stepped back to concentrate on his new tasks as the industry association‘s new Secretary General. bioplastics MAGAZINE spoke to Harald Kaeb after his fifteen years of board membership and ten years as chairman, and asked him to reflect on this period in a different way … bM: When 10 years of chairing European Bioplastics comes to an end, how does it feel? HK: Oh, it feels good! Because the baby has grown up, the association is reaching a new level of achievement. New structures were needed to cope with the growth of the previous years, new faces will help to maintain the impetus. We hired a managing director for the day-to-day business and installed committees dealing with environmental and end-of-life issues. Many new faces will bring new ideas and dynamics to the board. And I have a new role, which I like very much. bM: I like the analogy of the baby ... Dr. Harald Kaeb born 28.10.193 received PhD in chemistry at the University of Wuerzburg, Germany in 1991 worked years for biobased products project funding agency C.A.R.M.E.N. in Bavaria started his own biobased chemicals consultancy ’narocon’ in 199 Chairman of European Bioplastics from 1999 to 2009 HK: Yes, you can really compare the development of European Bioplastics with human development. A baby can hardly do anything, but is considered sweet by everyone - everybody loves it. Same with the birth of bioplastics, very charming innovation based on renewable and compostable polymers. Its baby phase showed just a few products with limited performance. In the beginning the association was also very limited due to lack of resources and experience. This has changed; our workflow and impact is increasing. And today we have really good products on the market. So the kid is not adult yet, but has become a fast-maturing adolescent. Bioplastics still ‘smell like teen spirit’. You can compare it with the boy scouts. Young boy scouts can act very well and sensibly if properly organised. But they are young, not always well focused, and sometimes a bit rude. They have to fight for their place where the big boys play. Today the charm of bioplastics is their youth: a highly attractive innovation, perfectly fitting into the green business evolution. You can see the potential. 8 bioplastics MAGAZINE [03/09] Vol. 4

Interview bM: Let‘s come back to your new role. What is it? HK: In my function as Secretary General I will advise European Bioplastics in fields of strategic interest. Market introduction policies and the legal framework are of key importance to trigger and enhance further growth. This also includes the development of certain fundamentals such as standards or labels that will define product qualities and contribute to the public image of bioplastics. My task as communicator will be to support these efforts internally, and in building stakeholder relations and alliances. bM: Sounds like a lobbying role on behalf of Plastics Europe… HK: (laughs) Yes, but it will be more punk or rock’n’roll than just mainstream! It will take a while before bioplastics become conventional ‘pop’ music or mainstream, and perhaps even a little boring - like mega-successful polyethylene. Many musicians in the early days of their careers play in small clubs, not widely recognised by the public. But if they are good they will develop a higher profile. Today bioplastics can hardly be ignored but until they become evergreens they will have to run through all the phases of maturing. You cannot totally steer or control such development; there will be ups and downs, successes and failures. bM: When will they enter the CD charts? HK: You can have a big Number One hit in the early stages of development without belonging to the mainstream. But by the time they reach the status of big plastic commodities I might be retired. It is a long way from a few hundred thousand tonnes to many millions. After 1 years in that business I only know one thing for sure: It will happen, you cannot stop evolution. Babies cannot run, teens can’t drive buses, but adults fly to the moon - and will soon fly to Mars. bM: Where do Bioplastics stand today? HK: Still on the threshold of a wider market entry. However the changes which are ongoing today are essential for reaching the next level of performance. More capacities, more players, more products, more critics. The bioplastics’ industry has a highly complex value chain. All players - from the farm via processers to marketers – must get involved and aligned, in collaborations driven by commercial interest. As long as everything looks ‘highly exotic’ there will only be a few pioneers around. Today we see many new players with many new products, the application range has increased substantially and more complex plastic products, like multi layer packaging, mobile phones or ski boots, have recently become biobased and/or biodegradable. bM: More companies, more speed? HK: Yes. With their adoption and efforts the process will accelerate and the graph of the result will be a steep curve. Second and third movers – producers – will lead to more competition and higher product quality. This is happening now, new capacities will go on stream in the months and years. There is another image that I have used again and again to motivate myself over the past 1 years. It’s the pioneers that first settled in North America. These settlers came to the East Coast and had a spirit of ‘heading for new horizons’. These people made their way through the wilderness. And later others followed. One example is seen in starch compounds: Novamont started very early and almost alone, today companies such as Plantic, Cereplast, Sphere-Biotec or Biograde are looking for their chance, just to name a few. Compostable starch plastics have the biggest market share today. And look at PLA. It was triggered by NatureWorks building an industrial scale plant in 2003. Now they are expanding it, and two European consortiums are building plants here in Europe. bM: And Harald Kaeb was the frontier scout who led the way through the wilderness? HK: (Laughs) But seriously - investment decisions are easier when success stories become tangible. Innovation is always about chickens and eggs: Why spend money on product and market development and take very high ... giving a TV-interview at an exhibition bioplastics MAGAZINE [03/09] Vol. 4 9

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