“If something’s working 'ok', many people and companies are averse to the hassle and risk of changing...”
Today, in our latest interview with leaders of our industry, our editor Luke Upton sat down with Frederik Feddes, Vice President, Biochemicals at sustainable ingredients giant Corbion. Their work helps differentiate products in markets as varied as food, home & personal care, animal nutrition, pharmaceuticals, medical devices and bioplastics, generating sales of €891.7 million in 2017. Frederik has been with Corbion for over 15 years, working for them in America and Singapore before returning to his native Netherlands in 2014.
Luke Upton (LU): Thanks for the time today Frederik, Corbion is 100 years old this year. Congratulations! What are some of your major focuses of the company in 2019?
Frederik Feddes (FF): There are several areas we’ll be focusing on this year as part of our “creating sustainable growth” strategy that’s running from 2018 to 2021. Growth is at the heart of this new strategy and is linked to the global megatrends of population expansion, food security, changing values, climate change, and resource scarcity.
Corbion’s overall ambitions are rooted in improving the quality of life for people both today and for future generations. We want to be the leading innovator in offering conscious choices for our customers and consumers. And we’re now unveiling a major new initiative – co-creators – that will unlock amazing opportunities for us to do this better.
LU: In an industry where co-operation is key, I was very interested to see you launch the Co-Creators programme, can you share some more details about it?
FF: You’re right – two heads are better than one, and some of our biggest success stories in the past are the result of collaboration with other organizations. We want to make co-creation a cornerstone of our biochemical business and are really excited about it. We’re looking for complementary partners that enable us to combine our biotechnology with their market and/or application knowledge. We want to foster an environment where key players can come together to develop long-term sustainable solutions. It is this kind of co-creation that enables us to tackle the challenges of today and tomorrow together – by bringing new or improved applications or processes to the market.
One example of co-creation is our new SENTIALL product line. SENTIALL is based on our biotechnology and provides unique benefits like the controlled release of active ingredients and nutrients to improve efficiency and/or reduce waste. These controlled release technologies are already used widely in our pharmaceutical and biomedical business but can now be applied to other industries like agrochemicals (to release nutrients in fertilisers or active ingredients in pesticides) or even in the construction industry, where we can now release self-healing agents to repair cracks in concrete.
By encouraging the sharing of great ideas, key learnings and insights, we will be able to develop more, and do more, than ever before.
LU: The tie-up with TU Delft to develop self-healing concrete sounds fascinating. What were the origins of that?
FF: Concrete is a key material in the global construction industry, but one of its weaknesses is the fact it cracks as it ages. Cracked concrete is obviously less strong and less stable, and exposes internal steel to external forces that cause corrosion. This means concrete structures have a limited life.
So the team at TU Delft asked itself, what if concrete cracking could be avoided? And the idea of self-healing concrete was born. After the initial research, the university needed a partner with product development experience and controlled release knowledge to help bring the idea to life, and contacted us. Together, we were able to develop technology that releases a self-healing agent the moment the crack forms, without impacting the setting time or overall strength of the concrete.
Our journey with TU Delft ended then, but the project was not over. Green Basilisk, a spin-out from the university, brought the product to market and we are working together to make it a success. If all goes well, self-healing concrete will become a sustainable product that will help protect concrete structures over a 100-year lifespan.
This product was exciting, challenging, valuable and a great fit for Corbion – which is exactly what we are looking for in our co-creators initiative.
LU: If I think my organisation would be a good fit for co-creators, how would I go about applying?
FF: It’s really easy – just enquire through our website (search for “Corbion cocreators”), tweet @CorbionBiochems or e-mail Mark van Denderen at email@example.com. Together, we’ll explore how your idea can leverage or complement Corbion’s technologies and expertise. Our team of experts is ready and waiting to hear from you!
LU: On a more personal level, you joined Corbion in 2003, what have been some of the major changes you’ve seen during this time?
FF: I’ve been fortunate enough to work in the biochemical business for the past 15 years, firstly in North America, then based in Asia, and now back home in Europe, the Netherlands. Joining Corbion in 2003 was the moment I switched to working in biochemicals rather than petrochemicals. From an external perspective, biochemical-based technology has of course made huge strides in many aspects of life. There’s barely any industry that isn’t trying to improve the way it operates and find more natural, cleaner and more sustainable ways to work
I’m proud that we, as Corbion, are contributing to this trend. One of the major developments I have seen since I joined is the unveiling of our bio-plastic PLA plant last year, as part of our joint venture with Total (pictured right). And over the years we’ve seen the tremendous contributions we can make, thanks to our work with our co-creation partners. There are so many examples of this. For instance, in the agrochemical industry, our controlled release technologies give higher crop yields and our natural antibacterial technologies can replace traditional biocides and preservatives. That’s good news not only from a health and safety perspective, but it makes food healthier and the entire food production chain more sustainable.
Thanks to our unique biotechnology and application knowledge, Corbion can bring sustainable solutions to market that enable our customers – and their customers – to make conscious choices that make a difference in our day-to-day lives. This inspires me and gets me going every day.
LU: The past few years have seen a great increase in sustainable materials and chemicals, what do you think is the biggest challenge to their further proliferation?
FF: I think the biggest challenge is changing how we, as humans, work and operate. People are often comfortable with what they have and know, even if it’s not sustainable or perfect. If something’s working “ok,” many people and companies are averse to the hassle and risk of changing.
Of course we understand that switching to sustainable solutions does require a bit of time and effort, and sometimes more cost. But the wider benefits throughout the supply chain and to the wider world are convincing. As we see more and more biotechnology success stories, I do believe the market will accelerate further. Legislation and growing consumer demand will also drive the proliferation of sustainable materials and chemicals.
LU: And finally, as we always ask our interviewees, what’s your favourite sustainable product and why?
FF: My favourite sustainable products are innovative ones that change behaviour. Typically these are smart, informative products using data to improve how we manage our lives, homes or even our production facilities. One of my favourites is actually really simple. It’s the centralised waste recycling bins we have installed in all our offices. Not only do they reduce the huge number of traditional personal plastic bins next to each desk, but they also make people think twice about what they throw away. Sometimes the best ideas are the small ones!
LU: Thanks very much ,we look forward to following the progress of the Co-Creators programme,
François de Bie, Senior Marketing Director, Total Corbion PLA is among 80+ industry leaders speaking at World Bio Markets 2019.
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