“Walking into a supermarket and buying a PEF-packed product is going to happen and I would like to see Synvina being the driving force behind this.”
Established following a fusion between bio industry heavyweights, BASF and Avantium, Synvina is well positioned to create the next generation bio-based plastics. The site that the company uses in Antwerp, Belgium, has a capacity of 50,000 metric tonnes of the bio-plastic that could well be the breakthrough, polyethylene furanoate (PEF), and is dedicating itself to licencing the technology to other manufacturers so that industrial-scale production can become a reality.
Joining Bio-Based World News for this week’s 5 Minutes With… is the man tasked with trying to make this mission become a reality, Gerald Michael, Synvina’s global business manager. Gerald took time out of his busy day to explain the optimism that he has in PEF, the challenges behind their successful production and the latest sustainable plastics that he thinks could solve the single-use plastic crisis.
Dave Songer (DS): Hi Gerald, for those not in the know can you give me a description about what it is that Synvina does?
Gerald Michael (GM): Synvina is a young company with around 70 fantastic and diverse employees, founded as a joint venture between @Avantium and @BASF at the end of 2016. Our sole purpose is to bring a new molecule furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA) and its polymer PEF to the global market. We believe FDCA has the potential to be used in countless applications, but we especially feel that way about PEF because we see it as a break through innovation for the packaging market; it has significantly higher barrier properties in comparison to other plastics, with of course the added benefit of being bio-based and recyclable.
GM: What do you enjoy most about being involved in the bio-based industry?
A big part for me is the vision, opportunity and drive I have seen in this industry. Globally we’re struggling with a whole range of environmental challenges, ranging from carbon dioxide emissions to waste management, but seeing the large number of ideas, the vision to tackle these challenges and being a small part of this drive towards a more sustainable future is energising. As is, of course, the fight to gain rather than to remain, which is always exciting.
GM: What is the biggest professional challenge you’ve faced?
I would say we’re still in the middle of it: developing the PEF value chain and bringing it to the market. Replacing a huge incumbent material with complex value chains and highly optimised production, while balancing scale-up, customers and regulation I can confidently describe as challenging. But that is also part of the fun.
GM: You have a rich history with BASF, how did working there help you with your current role?
BASF is so large and complex that if you want to be successful you have to collaborate with a number of partners; learn from them, collaborate and together as one team drive your idea. In that way BASF is a microcosm of our industry and having worked like that in the past is tremendously helpful now. Furthermore, learning from very experienced colleagues in several fields gives one many new perspectives and ideas.
GM: What advice would you give someone/start-up looking to get started in the bio-based industry?
I myself am quite new to the industry so at the risk of sounding hypocritical I would mention three aspects. Firstly, collaboration; today value chains and interactions are so complex it’s nearly impossible to achieve anything on your own and often by working with partners you might come onto new ideas and paths, which brings me to my second point: keep an open mind because sometimes the most unlikely and unexpected situations turn out to be the best. Finally, I would say persistence – be prepared that not everything goes as you would like it to, but I think that is the best learning experience.
GM: What project is Synvina currently working on, can you provide some details?
Synvina aims to commercially establish food and beverage packaging based on PEF. We have had already great success along the way. To just name one, we have received the interim approval by the European PET Bottle Platform for the recycling of PEF bottles. Of course, there is still some way to go but we’re also making excellent progress on flexible packaging with a lot of exciting things to come in the future.
GM: Where would you like to see @synvina in ten years’ time?
It is our aim to establish PEF in the market and to make it a real alternative to conventional plastics. Walking into a supermarket and buying a PEF-packed product is going to happen and I would like to see Synvina being the driving force behind this!
GM: You spoke at this year’s World Bio Markets – what did you speak about at the event and what did you most enjoy about the show?
I thoroughly enjoyed the variety of different ideas driving bio products and hearing a multitude of experiences and seeing how we can learn from them. Based on this I provided an update on our progress of introducing PEF to the market and the properties of our Biaxially-orientated PEF film.
GM: What is your favourite bio-based/sustainable product and why?
Outside of PEF, I find the biodegradable straws and one-time cups by Loliware ( @LOLIWARE ) truly visionary products. They’re based on algae and provide a functional solution to our plastic problem and I hope they can become the new norm for such plastics.
DS: Thanks so much for taking part this week, Gerald. All the best with your PEF efforts!
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