In conversation with Avient: external innovation priorities for more sustainable polymer manufacture (key talking points)

In the third of our four-part event in our ongoing Virtual Series, we were in conversation with Dr Jan Sueltemeyer, who is Global Head of Innovation & Sustainability at Avient Corporation.

Dr Sültemeyer’s presentation focussed on Avient’s external innovation priorities with regard to mechanical recycling of plastics, including a useful breakdown of the solutions they are seeking from researchers in this area. 

You can now access the recording of the third industry exposition event with Avient through our dedicated webinars page here. Feel free to share it with any colleagues who might find it useful.

What are Avient’s external innovation priorities relating to plastic and polymer sustainability?

As part of our Global Challenge campaign on sustainable plastics and alternatives, Avient outlined to IN-PART the top R&D priorities that they are looking to scientists to provide solutions to address. Their technology needs relating to plastics sustainability are summarised as follows:

Mechanical Recycling:

  • Solutions that improve the mechanical recycling process for rigid and flexible polymers
  • Solutions that improve the polymer quality in the mechanical recycling process
  • Colour removal from polymers during mechanical recycling
  • Odour removal from polymers during mechanical recycling
  • Rebuilding polymer chains during mechanical recycling

Biopolymers:

  • Solutions to stabilize biopolymers and make them fit for use in demanding applications
  • New types of bio-based polymer additives and/or colourants

In his presentation, Jan explained the mechanical recycling processes that are currently investigated by Avient to recycle plastics, and the limitations of the technologies currently used. He explained that Avient mimic real-world circular recycling in laboratory conditions in Avient’s innovation centre, Cycleworks. To illustrate the recycling processes he used examples mostly focussing on PET/rPET and polyolefins, which are currently two of the most widely produced polymers.

How does Avient work with academics, universities and research institutes? 

Avient’s external innovation team scout for ideas for the market, through building an internal database of stakeholders in areas of interest, primarily polymer recycling and biopolymers. Avient can bring new technologies to the market and scale them through their connections with leading global brands.

With regards to co-development projects with academics, Jan emphasised that they consider these collaborations on a case-by-case basis. However, he clarified that the team tends to avoid joint patents, to maintain clear divisions of labour and responsibilities.  

If you are a researcher who is interested in collaborating with Avient on their plastics recycling or biopolymer solutions then you can submit your technologies on our Global Challenge submission page.

About our panellists/the company

  • Dr Jan Sueltemeyer, Global Head of Innovation & Sustainability at Avient Corporation.

Avient Corporation is a specialised polymer materials manufacturer, it was formed in 2020 when PolyOne and Clariant Masterbatch division joined to become a global leader in masterbatches.

Highlights from the Q&A with Avient

Following Dr Sueltemeyer’s presentation, we hosted a Q&A session with the audience. We received numerous questions for our speaker, which ranged from Avient’s approach to academic collaboration to more technical questions on topics such as barrier systems in monomaterial packaging. 

What TRL levels are Avient open to collaborating on?

In his answer, Jan started off by clarifying that Avient generally does not collaborate on very early-stage projects, rather their approach is more business-driven so the preference would be for a later stage of the technology readiness level.

Jan explained that rather than early-stage research, the external innovation team is more interested in licencing technologies or buying the whole IP package.

Are Avient looking mostly at recycling technologies or are you also interested in biopolymers?

Jan explained that Avient is very interested in innovations relating to biopolymers, including ‘bio’ versions of the standard polymers, such as bio-PET and bio-polyolefins, but also purposely developed biopolymers such as PLA or PBS. However, a challenge that researchers and manufacturers face is the reduced stability of these types of polymers, as well as the recyclability of these biopolymers (as a biopolymer is not necessarily biodegradable nor easily recyclable). These are priorities for innovation opportunities that Avient is looking to address through academic collaborations. 

You mentioned the heat damage to the polymers during recycling – are you looking at changing the way you use energy in recycling and reducing the impact of the process on the environment?

In his answer Jan mentioned a new innovation that the company has recently introduced to the market – these are reheating additives that lower the barrier of heat transfer in the process of mechanical plastic recycling. The purpose of these polymer additives is to shorten the heating time required to melt the plastics, which in turn reduces the heat stress to the polymer, reducing the heat damage incurred in the recycling process.

What is a Global Challenges campaign?

In the spring of 2020, we launched our first Global Challenge campaign (formerly named ‘an open call for research’), where we reached out to all the universities and academics in our extended global network to share with us research at their institute addressing COVID-19. We prioritised dissemination of these technologies to industry teams with aligned interests, to help rapidly deploy interventions against the pandemic. Through this Global Challenge campaign, we facilitated more than 60 introductions between universities and relevant industry R&D professionals. We ran a second open call for Covid-related research in the spring of 2021, creating further connections. 

This time around, we are building on the success of these campaigns and turning our focus to sustainable plastics, polymers, and alternatives.

Read more about the new Global Challenge campaign on sustainable plastics, including more information on the R&D priorities from all the companies participating in our Virtual Series.

Read our Global Challenges FAQ for more information.

To submit your research or opportunities at your institute to PepsiCo’s external innovation team, as well as to other companies in our cross-sector network of industry teams looking for new plastic solutions, our Global Challenge submission form can be found on the landing page for academics and TTOs.


Written by Anabel Bennett. Edited by Alex Stockham.

Copyrights reserved unless otherwise agreed – IN-PART Publishing Ltd., 2021: ‘In conversation with Avient: external innovation priorities for more sustainable polymer manufacture (key talking points)’


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