"We have ambitious growth goals; specifically, medium-term sales of 20,000-50,000 tons in what is still a small and as-yet unorganized market."
In writing about our emerging bio-based industry, the majority of the companies we feature are relatively small and typically founded within the last decade. They typically have their origins in university laboratories and are often reliant on grants or funding to get started and help them find their way through those difficult early years. The company featured today is however very different, TOTAL Fluides is a subsidiary of TOTAL the French multinational integrated oil and gas company and one of the seven "Supermajor" oil companies in the world. Founded in 1924, its 100,000 employees can be found in more than 130 countries around the world. To find out more about TOTAL Fluides, work in this area our Editor Luke Upton recently spoke to its Director Strategy and Growth Frédéric Meyer to learn more about the innovation behind the products, their goals and objectives and in particular its BioLife range…
Luke Upton (LU): Many thanks for the time today Frédéric, perhaps as a brief introduction you could tell me a little about your career leading up to your current role.
Frédéric Meyer (FM): No problem Luke, I’m an engineer by training and have been with Total since 1992 working across a number of different positions mainly in commodities (such as coal) and specialties business in France, the United Kingdom and Hong Kong. Three years ago I moved from CDF Energie (TOTAL’s affiliate for steam coal distribution to industrial customers) to TOTAL Fluides and began working the bio-based sector together with our R&D team.
LU: Thanks, and where does TOTAL Fluides fit into the broader TOTAL Group?
FM: Total is divided into four business branches: Exploration and Production, Refining and chemicals, ,Gas Renewables and Powerand the part in which we belong, Marketing and Services. Within this segment, TOTAL Fluides has become a world class producer and marketer of high quality hydrocarbons solvents and specials fluids to the industry. All the team have a focus on high-performance solutions that answer the growing need for more sustainable, biodegradable fluids. At the heart of our business is a wide range of renewable isoalkanes, which we call BioLife.
LU: And how did the BioLife range develop?
FM: For more than thirty years we’ve been producing and marketing extremely pure and increasingly innovative hydrocarbon fluids. Social changes in terms of sustainable development and a growing desire to reduce environmental footprints led to Special Fluids to search for alternative bio-based sources.
As part of this we developed various partnerships to technically evaluate a broad range of new renewable feedstocks and R&D studies. We then chose feedstocks from the Finnish firm NESTE ( @ ) based on their commitment to sustainable development and the availability and reliability of this source. From this we engaged in a development project focusing on sustainability, intellectual protection, and the offer of products itself.
This all led to the launch earlier this year of the BioLife range and the commercial launch of Special Fluids’ new bio-sourced products: Gemseal Life, Isane Life, Scriptane Life and Berylane Life, all of which we think are ground-breaking in terms of technical performance and innovation.
LU: It’s great to see you putting such energy into matching the growing demand for more sustainable products. But aside from the green aspect, what are the advantages that set the BioLife range apart from its rival products that use traditional ingredients?
FM: That’s a good question and this aspect is crucial to our development. The creation of our range of bio-based products has been a big learning curve. Essentially we learnt that the sustainable or green aspect is not enough for most customers, performance is required as well. And of course price!
Let me give you an example where we believe we can have a great success: we work extensively in the oil and gas drilling sector and have developed a range of worldclass recognized drilling fluids to supply the services companies. In the Arctic region, the drilling fluid needs to combine high performances with extreme low environment impact. Our BioLife fluids have excellent thermal stability and adequate fluidity that are able to withstand the extreme conditions in that region. Their molecular structure means their pourpoint is lower than the fossil-based products, resulting in more efficient flow properties. Plus as it takes less energy to manufacture them it gives a real advantage when it comes to carbon emissions.
To give another example, for inks Bio-Life products are also easier to formulate than anything before, because they are more compatible with the other ingredients. So we are able to offer a number of advantages to prospective clients.
LU: I think the advantages of bio-based products are becomingly increasingly clear, but one of the challenges is reaching a wider the market. Being part of a huge group like TOTAL must help with this?
FM: Well, yes it does. We obviously have the reputation and a name that people know which helps. But the biggest support is the fact that we are not a start-up, we are not at the pilot stage, we already at an industrial stage. TOTAL Fluides can produce molecules at an industrial scale tomorrow if we wished.
And being part of a large global business like Total our mind-set is also different. Special Fluids business line has been historically built on fossil-based solutions but is now changing to meet a new eco-range. And when you combine our name, our reputation and the innovative work we’ve done with our bio-based products we have built something pretty unique in the market.
But again, it’s all about proving an obvious value to the market. They might not be asking for it, but you have to show them the value, and highlight the innovation and open their eyes to what can be delivered. And then deliver it!
LU: It’s interesting that although you are a large business, you still share some of the challenges of even the smallest companies. So to look into the future, with BioLife now launched, what’s the focus for 2016 and beyond?
FM: We are proud to report that our BioLife products are now being used across Europe in industries as diverse as cosmetics, inks, paints and coating, industrial lubricants and drilling fluids. We are also confident that other regions - California and northern Asia, in particular - are also likely to be receptive to our products because of their environmental focus and maturing industries.
We have ambitious growth goals; specifically, medium-term sales of 20,000-50,000 tons in what is still a small and as-yet unorganized market. By 2025, we’ll have 30 or so BioLife products across different applications, double what we have now.
And we are actively looking for partnerships as well, particularly when it comes to third party molecules, so if you think you have something that we could work together on, please get in touch!
LU: Thanks very much for the time today, it’s really fascinating to hear about your focus and growth and we look forward to learning more at San Francisco in September.
TOTAL Fluides are Exhibiting at Bio-Based Live in San Francisco on September 26-27 2016, and will be joining fellow experts including representatives from DSM, the USDA, Matter Unlimited, Genomatica, Anellotech, Korres Natural Products, Braskem, Allbirds and many more
If you like reading about the continued commercialization of bio-based, them you may also be interested in...