“If you are setting up a renewable business, the key is to be realistic and honest about the technological approaches that you plan to use. Ensure that it has economic relativity to what the market and the industry is calling for.”
Global businesses are starting to become aware of the sustainable economy in recent years now markets are structurally shifting away from petroleum-based options. Leaf Resources is an Australian firm which has moved ahead of this sustainable change. Four years ago the renewable chemical company was established to create sustainable products from plant biomass. They are commercialising Glycell, which is an innovative technology to generate industrial sugars from plant biomass. In a team of twelve with additional help from a range of consultants and advisors, Leaf Resources look to cellulosic feedstocks as the next generation biomaterials which have the potential to partially or in some instances completely replace petroleum-derived materials and transform various industries. Renewable chemicals are a very open market offering a number of opportunities to address the current challenges with a range of technologies to do this. However, the Australian firm has developed a technology offering a unique solution to which they have patents pending. Emily O’Dowd speaks with COO of Leaf Resources, Alex Baker who explains that in this challenging time for the world’s resources, it is important that everyone works together to achieve change. The nature of this industry is both competitive yet cooperative to help deliver a sustainable revolution that the world needs to see.
Emily O’Dowd (EOD): What has led you to this role?
Alex Baker (AB): I have been involved in the bio-technology industry for over 20 years. My career journey has led me from lab bench to boardroom and being involved with a number of start ups or repositioned companies developing biotechnological products. The bio-based renewable space is a particular interest of mine. I became involved with Leaf Resources five years ago through a mutual acquaintance of the CEO, and now as the COO. I’m very fortunate as it allows me to be highly involved in this emerging space.
EOD: What do you enjoy most about your role?
AB: We have an opportunity to make some significant differences to ensure the longevity of the planet, which can be achieved by using our application of science and technology. This is what gets me out of bed in the morning! One of the things very clear to me is that we only have one planet and we are using the available resources at a rate that is not sustainable, we can’t just beam up to the next one once we have exhausted the planet we are on. We have got to become more disciplined and focused about using and re-using the resources that are available to create a circular economy. It’s a collective effort not an individual effort.
I feel like I am contributing just by being able to solve problems at a micro level. When I use my individual experiences to create systems, products and processes to actually make a difference into what we do on the planet… this is something I get great satisfaction from.
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EOD: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced in the industry?
AB: I have found that the biggest challenge we, and I mean the whole of industry, have faced is translating the technology to scale. It is important for us to convince financiers and industrialists that these technologies are valid and will economically perform on scale. We need to achieve success at growing scale points to identify that the renewable industry is meaningful and can deliver results.
EOD: What advice would you give for someone starting work in the sustainable industry?
AB: My advice is to do it! It is so important that we work to achieve change not just as individuals but collectively. If you are setting up a renewable business, the key is to be realistic and honest about the technological approaches that you plan to use. Ensure that it has economic relativity to what the market and the industry is calling for. If the two are matched together then it is bound to deliver results. If you believe you have a super solution but there is no market for your product then it has no meaning. So it is important to be realistic about what you can achieve in the bio-based space.
EOD: What single change would help develop the sustainable industry further?
AB: Change can really only occur when the market dictates. My view is that it is already changing – the single largest change is not something that happens overnight, rather it is driven by the markets. Ultimately, structural change is occurring in our markets especially with the uncertainty coming from oil, energy and chemical supply points. For example, America’s coal industry is declining in response to the supply of alternate and in many cases renewable power, which suggests that businesses have chosen other ways to produce and/or consume the same processes or products. Whilst, the market is seen as a faceless concept, it is something that incorporates everyone – we all influence the demand and supply chain. By contrast, legislation has a small effect, it is artificial, but can be a catalyst towards market change.
EOD: Where would you like to see your company in 5 years’ time?
AB: I’d like to see Leaf Resources have our first scale plant operation and possibly a second, up and running. I expect us to deploy our technology to supply second generation industrial glucose at a consistent price point and other companies creating renewable chemicals from that feedstock. These are our main goals and what we are focused on very strongly at the moment. At the same time, Leaf Resources is listed on the Australian Stock Exchange, so I would like to think that we’ve built considerable value for our shareholders and broader stakeholders.
What is your favourite sustainable product aside from your own product range?
AB: One of my favourites is a coffee cup developed by an Australian company called BioPak, which has an inner liner made from a bio-degradable plastic. The rest of the product is made from cardboard so the whole cup is entirely bio-degradable.
EOD: Thank you for our interview today Alex, we wish you luck with your venture towards a sutainable economy.
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