The Four Pillars of Success in Commercializing New Biobased Chemicals
Recent years have brought the advent of numerous biobased chemistry technologies that have achieved varying degrees of broad-based adoption. To ensure success, it is necessary for a company to meet four fundamental pillars for new chemical technologies: performance, scale, affordability, and environmental impact. These impacts are prioritized and articulated on the ever-increasing range of corporate Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) reports which inform stakeholders' progress against milestones.
It all starts with performance. Product performance is the key criteria required to reach many users and realize the magnitude of the opportunity to replace petrochemical-based products. Industries from coatings, construction, personal care, and energy are moving towards sustainable chemistry. While it’s increasingly becoming part of the culture of many companies in a meaningful way, it's quite challenging to drive the change to renewable chemicals without clearly demonstrating performance attributes. It's incumbent of the manufacturer not just to hypothesize certain benefits; they must be validated in targeted applications with performance testing using industry-accepted methods.
One of the early challenges in developing new biobased chemical technology is reaching commercial scale. Many growing organizations hungry for growth can create interest and commercial traction based on a combination of performance criteria and environmental improvements. There is a tendency to accelerate market introduction and get the commercial pull to excite company leaders and stakeholders. The risk, and something to carefully balance, is the ability to supply commercial quantities when customers adopt the new products. If there is an imbalance of supply and demand, the outcome is likely to disappoint customers, negatively impacting customer relationships and revenue.
Can biobased chemicals enter markets that are affordable for both the customer and manufacturer? Meeting price, or cost in use, targets is only one part of the equation. Costs associated with developing and introducing new products can be quite burdensome to the affordability of the manufacturer, causing stress to achieve near-term positive financial results. Capital expenses can hinder the ability to meet financial targets. Developing a long-term financial picture can provide a roadmap to success while also considering financial milestones with stakeholders. Building a biobased chemical platform often takes more time than initially assumed, and reaching financial targets requires patience and commitment.
In addition to finding valuable new performance characteristics, the chemical industry is motivated to develop safe technologies for people and protect the environment. This motivation is especially true for consumers whose demand for safer and more natural ingredients continues to intensify as they understand the impacts of their buying decisions. Biobased chemical technologies are under continuous development to respond to these needs by replacing petrochemical-based products that do not always have a favorable health and safety profile. Some are toxic to aquatic life, such as epoxypropyl neodecanoate (EPDA). Others cause serious health effects, while others like N-Methyl-2-pyrrolidone (NMP) are flammable.
What does it take to succeed?
Biobased technologies that bridge the performance and sustainability pillars are destined to succeed. However, innovative technology which is economical and scalable to commercial quantities to meet current and future market demand is also critical.