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Issue 03/2022

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Events Renewable

Events Renewable Materials Conference Review The unique “Renewable Materials Conference 2022”, 10–12 May in Cologne (Germany), attracted over 400 participants who came to see the latest developments in bio- and CO 2 -based chemicals, plastics, and other materials as well as advanced recycling technologies in search of nonfossil solutions. 60 speakers and 25 exhibitors from leading companies presented their innovative products and strategies. Over 400 questions were posted by the participants for 14 panel discussions, which were ranked by 1600 likes. The first day of the Conference started strong, kicking off with Avantium (Amsterdam, the Netherlands), showing that they are anything but a one-trick PEF pony with a lot more to offer. One of them is electrochemical CO 2 reduction to formic acid, oxalic acid, and glycolic acid, which are planned to be used for CO 2 based plastics in a later stage, among other things. One very interesting statement came from Peep Pitk from Fibenol (Tallinn, Estonia) while promoting their own industrial scale-up and wood to sugar transformation he said that “we cannot replace all fossil feedstocks with biomass – biomass is limited”. A statement that in itself seemed to legitimize the very conference it was made on, promoting a wider range of solutions that go beyond just going green and one-fits-all silver bullet solutions. After the lunch break Paul Bremer, a perhaps rather unusual presenter at such a conference – showed the results of rheingold’s (Cologne, Germany) psychology-based market research about the image the chemical industry has with end consumers – sinner or saviour. The gist of it was that big chemical companies should not try to paint themselves as grand saviours to climate change problems without admitting that they aren’t without sin in matters of pollution. The best course of action seems to be to meet consumers at eye level showing them developments that fit into everyday life and thus give the consumers a sense of agency. It is, of course, easier to simply blame the chemical industry than to accept that they are an essential part of contemporary society – and therefore will have to play an important part in the solutions that are desperately needed. The rest of the day seemed to follow similar lines of thought – there are already a lot of projects being done and investments are made, however, this won’t be enough by itself. There is a lack of supply chains for a lot of materials that can already be recycled by new technologies, and so far, legislation hasn’t done enough to promote and enable these options. Or as Jens Hamprecht from BASF (Ludwigshafen, Germany) quite astutely stated, “dumping is not made expensive by the legislator – so it appears to be an easy solution”. In all of this, one other point became once again quite clear, communication of what is possible is more important than ever, these new technologies are not a threat to classical recycling, but rather complementary to the systems already in place (which nonetheless need to be improved as well). However, this is a complicated problem and people like easy solutions (like simply banning plastic cups or straws), but as Lars Börger from Neste pointed out, “communication is important, but more often than not, when you make it (the whole climate crisis shebang) easy (to understand) you also make it wrong”. And as if to prove the point, even at a conference with the focus on materials we found a piece of wrong/misleading communication. The packaging of a give-away gift at one of the exhibition booths claimed the following: “This bag is made of renewable raw materials. This enables environmental-friendly disposal and 100 % composting”. While both statements of biobased origin and compostability may be true – correlation is not causation, one does not necessarily cause (enable) the other! Moreover, the necessary environment for the “100 % composting” remains unclear. It is painfully obvious, that communication remains one of the biggest challenges of the industry. During the second day of the conference participants had to make some potentially tough decisions as the event split into two – one with a more general focus on renewable materials, including topics such as chemical building blocks, technology, and markets – and a second parallel block of presentations with a focus on fine chemicals. Both included interesting topics and panel discussions with sometimes rather provocative questions such as “Do we need more ‘new plastics’, or should we rather make the existing ones renewable?” that Thomas Farmer from the University of York (UK) was asked after his presentation on new materials made by enzymatic polycondensation that could potentially replace PBAT or PBAF (his answer was that it might be smarter to look at both). Or why SABIC is working on upcycling technology that would transform single-use PET bottles into PBT when there are already (comparatively) robust PET recycling systems in place; and how renewable materials fit into Saudi Arabia’s broader political strategy framework that seems to shift from fossil-based fuels to fossil-based materials. The last block combined the two parallel sessions again with the Renewable Materials of the year 2022 award. This year’s winner was Twelve Benefit Corporation (USA) for their Electrochemical CO 2 Transformation to Chemicals and Materials (for more details see Overall, a day full of many topics and opinions, and lots of room for discussion which were probably continued in more detail during one of the breaks or at the end of the day, accompanied by a Kölsch (local beer) or two. The last day offered insights into everything the novainstitute has to offer, covering every inch of the industry. Followed by insights into brand owners’ positions (LEGO and Henkel) and policy including a representative of the European Commission. The last day closed with a closer look at biodegradation. Andreas Künkel of BASF explained the basics of biodegradation while Miriam Weber of HYDRA addressed the topic of biodegradable plastics in the open sea The last session included a presentation on unidirectionally biofibre reinforced thermoplastic tapes to produce so-called 10 bioplastics MAGAZINE [03/22] Vol. 17

By: Alex Thielen Events organo-sheets. These semi-finished sheets can be thermoformed and subsequently be back injected on an injection moulding machine. So, sophisticated composite parts can be manufactured with natural fibres such as hemp and thermoplastic matrices such as PP but also biobased resins such as PLA. Overall, a very interesting and engaging event, and for some the first in-person conference they had attended in a long time. Considering that the conference season is in full swing, with conferences on similar topics every other week, the Renewable Materials Conference demonstrated how important it is to look at all available options to tackle both climate change and the plastic waste problem. And the number of participants in combination with vibrant discussions and a, in general, very good reception underlines the need for such events that demonstrate the interconnectedness of the different parts of the industry (or rather industries) and facilitate cooperation throughout the value chain. While I am far from being an optimist in the face of these challenges that go far beyond the plastics industry, I come home with a little bit more hope after a conference such as this one – we may just make it, but it won’t be easy. 19–20 April 2023 Save the Date bioplastics MAGAZINE [03/22] Vol. 17 11

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