Inspiring innovation through partnerships

We know that humanity is going to grow to about nine billion people by 2050 and about 70% of them will be living in cities. If we want all of those people to live safely, healthily and comfortably, we're going to have to do things differently. We're going to have to innovate...

Take chemicals for example. There are a great many products that we use every day in which chemicals are applied. There are building products, medical supplies, paint and coatings, personal care products to name just a few everyday urban applications.

At this moment, our society is highly extractive. If we want to change that we are going to have to come up with more sustainable solutions – a new way of doing business. And this is where the chemical industry can play a key role as an innovator.

At AkzoNobel we are constantly looking to develop more sustainable products and processes. And through these innovations, we aim to make a positive impact on society.

However, we have learnt over the years that we can’t do this in isolation. If we’re going to truly chart a course to a more sustainable future, we have to work together.

This is the central philosophy behind AkzoNobel’s Human Cities initiative which is aimed at making cities more comfortable, inspiring and vibrant. We believe that by forming more strategic partnerships across entire value chains we have the opportunity to rethink our urban environments and ultimately make them more sustainable.

For example, we are part of a major Dutch consortium exploring the use of household waste streams as a feedstock for chemical production. A number of industry and semi-governmental partners are looking to benefit from Canadian company Enerkem’s ongoing research into developing technology that converts waste into synthesis gas – a common starting material for products such as methanol and ammonia.

Another recent initiative involves investigating the possibility of producing chemicals from beet-derived sugar feedstock. Working with several partners, the aim is to develop a viability study which will look at developing business cases for commercial production in the Delfzijl chemical cluster in the Netherlands.

Another important development has seen AkzoNobel expand its agreement with Solazyme Inc. to target an annual supply of up to 10,000 tons of renewable tailored algae-based oils – which would replace both petroleum and palm oil-derived chemicals.

Finally, we’re also working with cleantech company Photanol to develop a process for harnessing the power of the sun to make chemicals. The aim is to produce “green” chemical building blocks that will eventually replace raw materials we currently obtain from fossil-based production, supporting our Planet Possible agenda of radical resource efficiency.

Ultimately, by combining our innovative know-how with effective and meaningful partnerships, we can accelerate the pace of change and grasp the opportunities that will inevitably come our way.

We need to take action, convene stakeholders, facilitate interaction and support industries to bring solutions closer to market and ultimately speed up the process of sustainable development.

Can we achieve all of this? Well, that’s up to us. We’re in the privileged position of being able to influence this change.

Peter Nieuwenhuizen is RD&I director for AkzoNobel Specialty Chemicals.

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