"You have to be persistent and patient, remember that producing bio-based high quality products’ economically is the priority here."
In late 2015, Merck’s acquisition of Sigma-Aldrich formed the new life science business of Merck, which operates as MilliporeSigma in the US and Canada. It has since become a key player in the $140 billion life science industry. The life science business supports most aspects of the biotech/biopharma value chain offering a broad portfolio of more than 300,000 products, including many of the most highly respected brands in the industry. It aims to solve some of science’s challenging problems by collaborating with the global scientific community This week, our reporter Emily O’Dowd spoke to Samy Ponnusamy, a Green Chemist who has been working at the company for nearly 30 years. Samy’s role in Corporate Responsibility requires him to reduce environmental harm and eliminate toxic chemicals from traditional processes.
Emily O’Dowd (EOD): What has led you to this role?
Samy Ponnusamy (SM): I was recruited by the company as a chemist after working hard to receive a PhD in polymer chemistry, followed by post-doctoral training in peptide chemistry. I began my career as a chemist and since then I have been promoted to a number of roles like senior scientist, principal scientist and now I am a fellow in green chemistry. Most of my career has required me to work in research and developments as I have been working on developing biopolymers for drug delivery applications for our bio-pharmaceutical customers. I have been fascinated with green chemistry and start employing green chemistry principles wherever possible in my every day work.
In 2007, I founded our company’s first ever green chemistry group called Worldwide Green Chemistry Team (voluntary scientists) within our company to expand green chemistry beyond one person. We meet virtually once a month and discuss new research and developments in green chemistry and plans to implement. Our team was able to achieve good results. Off the back of this, just over three years ago, the company recognised the importance of green chemistry and planned to have a full time green chemist. They offered me the position to lead green chemistry
EOD: What do you enjoy most about your role?
SP: I love that I get to work with the whole company across a variety of departments on challenging projects…which means that I’m continuously contributing to the bottom line, and also sustainability. It’s a great privilege to work with a wide range of business leaders and people, as well as working on many different products/processes. This means that every day is different for me and gives me an opportunity to learn new things!
EOD: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced in the industry?
SP: The biggest challenge is definitely the lack of customer/consumer understanding on bio-based products. I would think that only a quarter or less of people who feel that the price/quality is right to switch to bio-based alternatives.
EOD: Would you say that you’ve seen a big change in the industry over the past three years?
SP: In the past two years the industry has not really improved. Before this however, there was more of a shift because of favourable economics for bio-based materials. The increased supply of fossil fuels, specifically natural gas has brought the price of oil down that bio-based alternatives aren’t as attractive for the customer/consumer. Capital investment is one of the most difficult aspects about this industry because of the low oil prices.
EOD: What advice would you give for someone starting work in the sustainable/bio-based industry?
SP: You have to be persistent and patient, remember that producing bio-based high quality products’ economically is the priority here. Remain vigilant and work on the high impact/high value products/projects first to bring revenue to sustain the business and build on.
EOD: Where would you like to see the industry in 5 years’ time?
SP: I’m sure awareness will increase, and with dedicated, thoughtful business leaders that realise the opportunity and take bio-based products, to the next level.
EOD: What is your favourite bio-based/sustainable product aside from your own product range?
SP: Greener bio-based solvents are my favourite products because solvents are key, in every aspects in manufacturing chemicals. There are a variety of bio-based natural resources abundant in the world. So I hope that scientists would develop processes utilising those abundant natural resources in a sustainable way that will contribute to large scale commercial greener bio-based solvents manufacturing.
Our last 5 minutes with... 5 minutes with... Dr Pattanathu Rahman, Chairman and Director of TeeGene.
Bio-Base d World News will bring this 5 minute feature to our readers every week. This will able to put a face to the brand and provide established businesses and new start-ups the crucial advise they need in this industry. If you would like to be interviewed about your own bio-based/sustainable business then please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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