Working across food, biochemical and biomedical, Corbion works in developing lactic acid, emulsifiers, enzyme blends, minerals, vitamins and algae ingredients. The company also produces bioplastics and has engineered a 100% bio-based product that offers improved thermal and mechanical properties in comparison to polyethylene terephthalate (PET).
Joining Bio-Based World News for this week’s 5 Minutes With… is Marc den Hartog, executive vice president innovation platforms at Corbion. Marc began his career at Unilever in 1996 and went on to join Cobion in 2011 and he speaks to Dave Songer about Corbion’s drive to make better sustainable products, the advice he would give someone new to the bioeconomy and gave some details about what’s on the horizon for the company.
Dave Songer (DS): Great to have you on board, Marc. For those who don’t know about Corbion, can you give me a description about what it is the company does?
Marc den Hartog (MvH): What started a century ago as a small sugar company has transformed into a global ingredient provider for a wide range of food and biochemical applications. Today, @CORBION is the global market leader in lactic acid, lactic acid derivatives, and a leading company in emulsifiers, functional enzyme, mineral, vitamin blends and algae ingredients. We develop sustainable ingredients to help improve the quality of life for people today and of future generations.
(DS): What does your role at Corbion entail… and what do you enjoy most about it?
(MvH): The business unit I oversee is called Innovation Platforms, which involves us developing new and often disruptive business platforms that will contribute to our ambition of long term value creation – our joint venture with Total for the production and marketing of PLA bioplastics is an example of that. Innovation Platforms also comprises the algae Ingredients business that was acquired last year and the succinic acid joint venture with BASF. Here we apply decades of experience in fermentation and industrial-scale manufacturing, working with partners to create conscious choices for our customers, that allow them to create better, more sustainable products, is what I enjoy the most.
(DS): What is the biggest professional challenge you’ve faced?
(MvH): Back in 2013, when CSM divested its bakery products division and with it the name CSM, we had to reinvent ourselves. As part of the team I was involved in the creation of Corbion, a new strategy of disciplined value creation and making the shift towards the sustainable ingredients company that we are today. Looking back, we can be proud of what we’ve built together.
(DS): What are the main challenges facing the bio-based industry?
(MvH): After many years of high expectations, we must conclude that it hasn’t yet brought the world that we all hoped for. This is not only related to the fact that it is a new industry with many intrinsic challenges such as technology development and the time it takes to develop applications, but also an unlevel playing field due to the fact that fossil-based products aren’t taxed for their carbon contribution. Another challenge is that several governments subsidise the energy transition but ignore sustainable development of materials as a way to achieve their climate objectives. A policy change here is needed to create more successes for our industry and society as a whole.
(DS): What advice would you give someone looking to get started in the bio-based industry?
(MvH): First of all I would congratulate them on joining a very exciting industry that will bring major game changing innovations. My advice would be to focus and open for collaboration: work on something that you believe is worthwhile and involve others on your journey as it will take a while and our fellow travellers can help you to get there sooner.
(DS): Bio-Based World News reported last year on Corbion’s involvement with Thailand, which will supply sugarcane for the production of sustainable PLA. How’s that area of business going?
(MvH): PLA is, as you know, is one of the first renewable polymers that is able to compete with fossil-based products and can be used for a wide range of applications, ranging from (degradable) food packaging to touchscreen computers and durable automotive components . In March last year, the joint-venture Total Corbion PLA officially launched its operations and the most recent milestone is that it has produced the very first PLA batches in the pilot plant in Thailand – just before the end of the year. We are now looking forward to the PLA polymerisation plant becoming operational, which is planned for the second half of 2018, a very important next step in our efforts to serve the growing market for PLA.
(DS): Can you provide some details on any new projects Corbion is working on?
(MvH): The one I haven’t mentioned yet is our programme on FDCA, a bio-based building block that has demonstrated unique properties for use in (bio-) polymers such as an improved oxygen barrier and an ability to create thinner films that allow for lighter packaging. As such, it has the potential to replace purified terephthalic acid (PTA) in many formulations and applications and we are working with partners to prepare a scale up of our technology for further validation.
And of course the integration of the algae Ingredient business that was acquired last year: an amazing platform to create plant-based proteins and oils for a wide range of applications of which you will see a lot more in the coming years.
(DS): Where would you like to see Corbion in ten years’ time?
(MvH): With ongoing innovation in our core lactic acid technology, I believe we are still going to see major breakthroughs in that area as well, whether it is through a gypsum-free process or the use of alternative feedstocks (lignocellulosic biomass, agricultural residues, or waste), I hope we continue to continue to innovate in this space.
(DS): What is your favourite bio-based product and why?
(MvH): In the bio-based world, often your products find their way into very technical complex applications. They are great for business and a better planet, but aren’t necessarily things that you would talk about at parties. I am glad though that there is one I like that everyone will recognise: LaCoppa has launched a series of compostable coffee capsules, made from PLA, applying our high heat technology that helps to divert coffee waste from incineration. It’s fully certified and keeps coffee tasting great!