A bio-based company to its core, Carbios is involved in developing a range of scientific processes and bioprocesses to change the way plastics are produced. The French company focuses on three key areas: the creation of fully biodegradable plastics, infinite bio-recycling of plastic waste and the production of biopolymers . It's working towards offering its solutions on an industrial scale and this year is building a bio plant to help it achieve that.
From Carbios, Martin Stephan, its deputy chief executive officer is answering the questions for this week's Bio-Based World News 5 Minutes With…, Martin has worked over his career at major chemical companies before taking up the role at the much smaller Carbios a year ago, giving him a broad range of experience that made for a great interview. In the feature, Martin gives Dave Songer the inside track on Carbios’s plans, the challenges of working for a small company and why its latest deal means they’re worth it…
Dave Songer (DS): What do you most enjoy about working in the bio-based industry?
Martin Stephan (MS): I really enjoy the feeling of contributing towards building new markets and new applications, which could well represent a great part of the industry in the future. The bio-based industry is extremely diverse, from food to pharma and even plastics and that’s really exciting.
(DS): What advice would you give someone looking to get started in the bio-based industry?
(MS): Be patient. Development processes can be pretty long – sometimes up to 10 years – and that forces you to be extremely disciplined when building your development plans or discussing them with business partners or investors. You also need to be clear when explaining the strategy behind the project.
(DS): What is Carbios’s focus for 2018 – can you give me any specific details?
(MS): In 2018, we will start building our pilot plant for the bio-recycling of PET (polyethylene terephthalate). This is a key step for us, as it will demonstrate that our technology can be scaled-up to a commercial phase. Along with other brand owners, we will also collaborate with L’Oréal as part of a five-year consortium to prepare the industrialisation of our process. The deal is part of our commitment to promoting the circular economy and we’ve developed a process that breaks polymers down to the basic components – monomers. Making such an innovative technology a commercial reality requires collaboration all along the PET value chain, and we are very thankful to L’Oréal (@Loreal) for its contribution to this important work.
This year will also see a continuation of our partnership with the French cereals company, Céréales Ingrédients, called Carbiolice, which involves the development of formulations to make PLA- (polylactic acid) based plastic that’s biodegradable and which can be composted at home. It’s a challenging year, for sure.
(DS): What is the biggest professional challenge you’ve faced?
(MS): Recognition. Working for a small bio-tech company like Carbios doesn’t receive the coverage and reputation that a large multinational does (I have 30 years’ experience of working for large chemical companies). Therefore, you can only count on yourself to reach out to people and prepare the deals which will structure your future. This is still a challenge for me – to be able to talk to the right people in the organisations we target – due to not having a ‘known and reputable’ business card.
(DS): Carbios recently joined a coalition that aims to make packaging more sustainable. Can you provide some details on that?
(MS): The Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) (@SPCspotlight) is the perfect place for us to understand the needs of brand-owners and converters for the packaging of the future. Having that union enabled us to bring them the value they look for, for their products and for their packaging. The SPC organises conferences at which we have the opportunity to join working groups trying to come up with innovative ideas to improve sustainability of packaging. It works well, as it’s a very efficient way to collaborate and to discuss with the entire value chain.
(DS): Where would you like to see Carbios in ten years’ time?
(MS): Our vision is to have licensed and applied our PET bio-degradation process around the world and used on a few million tonnes-worth of plastic. We also want to have established a solid business for our additives, making PLA bio-degradable. This might appear optimistic, but we are really convinced that we bring value to those markets, and that our technologies will be adopted.
(DS): What is your favourite bio-based product and why?
(MS): Enzymes, of course! They’re so diverse and so efficient…when properly designed and improved by competent people like our R&D team.
(DS): You’re speaking at World Bio Markets, do you attend shows like that often?
(MS): I don’t – normally I attend shows about PET or plastics recycling/sustainability. This year will be my first time at World Bio Markets, so I’m really looking forward to discussing with other bio-tech companies to share our experiences.
(DS): Without giving too much away, what areas are you likely to cover in your talk at World Bio Markets?
(MS): How Carbios has been one of the first companies to be able to bring together enzymes and plastics.
(DS): Thanks again for participating, Martin. And good luck with the new L’Oréal deal.
Read the last 5 minutes with… Marcel Lubben, president of Reverdia.
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