“60-70% of our worldwide raw material consumption is bio-based and we have a keen focus on moving to non-fossil energy largely through in-house initiatives such as biogas from side streams, landfill gas, wind and solar.”
With a vast product range that includes everything from agrochemicals, building and construction materials and adhesives, to pharmaceuticals dietary supplements and food and feedstocks, Croda is a company with a portfolio of sustainable ingredients that are used by small, niche consumer markets as well as much larger specialist industrial ones. Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, Croda extended its biotechnology research capabilities with the purchase of Nautilus, the Canadian company that uses marine microbial biodiversity to discover novel actives and materials.
From Croda, the company’s vice president of customer alliances and corporate sustainability, Chris Sayner, joins Bio-Based World News for 5 Minutes With… in which the one-company man he talks to Dave Songer about his personal journey through the bio-based industry, the work Croda is doing to shrink their carbon footprint and what product ranks as his favourite bio-based product.
Dave Songer (DS): Thanks for joining us, Chris. It’s not very often we interview people that have been at one company their whole career; what have been the biggest changes that have occurred in the bio-based industry since you began at Croda?
Chris Sayner (CS): Going back to the early 1980s the oleochemical industry in Europe and the US was predominantly based on tallow for many downstream derivatives from fatty acids and alcohols, namely esters, emulsifiers, surfactants. Throughout the 1990s there was a fundamental shift to plant-based feedstocks such as palm and rapeseed. Similarly, we had a position in proteins back in those days which were largely based on animal derivatives in conjunction with our photographic gelatin business. Who talks about photographic gelatin now????
At @CrodaInc we successfully transitioned through these feedstock changes, as did much of the industry, and we’ve maintained a leading position as a supplier of ingredients for home and personal care together with pharma, veterinary, coatings and polymers, crop care, lubricants and water treatment.
Biotech has always been a part of our business, working with enzymes, particularly in the protein area. It is now mainstream in many in-house processes for finished products and even producing our own biogas from side streams. Biotech also features strongly in several of our acquisitions over the last six years and is perhaps the area where we’re most heavily engaged in academia.
DS: What do you most like about working in the industry?
(CS): That’s easy: working with some very smart people, I have worked with many of my colleagues in Croda for more than 20 years. Going to work with your friends is a privilege. Equally, the customer relationships established over many years are great together with meeting and establishing new contacts.
DS: What is the biggest professional challenge you’ve faced?
(CS): That’s tricky, I can’t think of just one! I think I’d turn it around and say that professional life has improved in so many ways. Technology and interconnectedness deliver a way of working which is so far removed from the days before the internet, so if there is a downside of that it could be information overload – but we’re objective in Croda and not easily distracted.
DS: What advice would you give an individual or a start-up looking to get started in the bio-based/sustainable industry?
(CS): Look for a defined application or market where bio-based delivers an advantage. Thinking about the acquisitions we’ve made over the last few years, they’re capital light, IP rich and transferable which are in many cases applicable to multiple industries.
DS: What are Croda’s business priorities for the next few years?
(CS): Innovation is a key driver in our business and we have an important metric; the percentage of our group turnover attached to new and patented products (NPPs). In 2017 the NPP figure grew for the 5th consecutive year to 27.6%. Our focus is on both in-house together with open innovation and targeted acquisitions.
DS: Where do you think are the biggest challenges – and opportunities – facing the bio-based industry?
(CS): Sustainability is front and centre. The chemical industry has an extremely important role to play in helping to meet climate change objectives, not least because the worldwide chemistry set is 90% based on fossil-based ingredients. Add to that the energy intensity of the chemical industry and you can see that it has some challenges. We’re fortunate in Croda in that we’re the reverse: 60-70% of our worldwide raw material consumption is bio-based and we have a keen focus on moving to non-fossil energy largely through in-house initiatives such as biogas from side streams, landfill gas, wind and solar.
With the world relying on fossil fuels and the growing consensus that carbon will cost much more than it does today, the bio-based industry has huge opportunities. At Croda we’re focusing strongly on carbon footprint and life cycle analysis in many of our processes.
DS: You spoke at World Bio Markets – what did you cover and what did you most enjoy about the show?
(CS): I spoke about the environmental burden that sits in many industry supply chains, primarily embedded carbon, and the benefit attached in moving away from fossil to bio-based. Attending the conference for the first time I was struck by the breadth and depth of topics, there were some excellent presentations by a lot of smart people. I am still using some of the conference material I picked up and exchanging information with contacts I met in Amsterdam.
DS: What is your favourite bio-based/sustainable product?
(CS): Unashamedly, I’m going to say our bio-based ECO range of ethoxylates made using bioethanol from biomass sources. We’ve built the first plant in the US, reducing reliance on fossil fuel feedstock and eliminating 230,000 miles of ethylene oxide (EO) railcar freight a year by producing in situ instead of sourcing petrochemical-derived EO transported in rail cars from the Gulf Coast. Ethoxylates are used in many everyday consumer products from cosmetics to household cleaners to plastics and paints because of their cleansing, emulsification and soluble performance.
Our bio-based ECO ethoxylates are 100% renewable and manufactured with a high proportion of renewable energy from landfill gas. They have a significantly smaller carbon footprint than the standard petrochemical-based alternatives and will be certified by the @USDA Biopreferred programme. Those sustainability benefits are multiplied in supplying more than 7,000 customer/product combinations to more than 40 industry sectors.
DS: Thanks so much for your time, Chris.
Read the last 5 minutes with… Sharon Tracy, principal researcher at Steelcase Inc.
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