In conversation with Dow: innovation and collaboration priorities for sustainable materials (key talking points)

In the final instalment of our four-part event in the ongoing Virtual Series, we were in conversation with Dr Jill Martin, who is a Global Sustainability Fellow and Dr Nikhil Fernandes, who is a Research Scientist in University Research Collaborations (Core R&D) at Dow.

Dow is one of the largest material science companies in the world, manufacturing polymers, chemicals, and agricultural products. The presentation summarised Dow’s sustainability targets, the research areas they are interested in, and the opportunities available to collaborate with Dow on sustainable solutions. 

Dr Fernandes’ presentation focussed on the ways in which Dow approaches research and collaboration, including internal research and development, long-term collaborations with university and national laboratories, and external funding and collaborations.

Dr Martin followed with a presentation on ‘Plastics for a Circular Economy’, which focussed on Dow’s sustainability goals with respect to polymer packaging products. 

 

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

 

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

As part of our Global Challenge campaign on sustainable plastics and alternatives, Dow shared its sustainability goals and top R&D and innovation priorities that they are seeking in order to achieve these goals. Their research interests relating to plastics sustainability are summarised as follows:

  • Mechanical and advanced recycling
  • Enabling fully recyclable packaging
  • Incorporating bio-based feedstocks
  • Decarbonisation of assets

When considering new research innovations, Nik explained that Dow researchers actively monitor literature that may be relevant to Dow’s technology needs. The University Research Collaborations team will first look at their existing partnerships with universities.  

When it comes to evaluating technologies, Dow’s core R&D department has a wide range of technical experts who will review potential research and evaluate to determine whether this research will fit with Dow’s research areas and strategic objectives. This evaluation will also include considerations of how the team would participate in the development of the technology. Nik emphasised that the R&D team is keen to bring technical expertise to the table when it comes to research collaborations.

If you are a researcher who is interested in collaborating with Dow on their mechanical or advanced recycling, recyclable packaging, or bio-based polymer solutions then you can submit your technologies on our Global Challenge submission page.

About our panellists

Speakers:

  • Dr Jill Martin, Global Sustainability Fellow | LinkedIn
  • Dr Nikhil Fernandes, Research Scientist, University Research Collaborations, Core R&D  | LinkedIn

Highlights from the Q&A with Dow

Following Jill and Nik’s presentations, we hosted a Q&A session with the audience. We received numerous questions for our speakers, which ranged from Dow’s approach to assessing technologies to more technical questions on topics such as advanced (chemical) recycling.

What Technology Readiness Levels (TRL) are Dow open to collaborating on?

In his answer, Nik explained that Dow is open to a range of TRLs when evaluating potential academic partners. The company has an interest in funding basic research if the outcomes look positive and align with Dow’s strategic objectives, and the R&D team has much experience collaborating with academics via sponsored research. For these reasons, he said that researchers do not need to wait for a high TRL if it makes sense to become a Dow partner.

Regarding technologies with intellectual property (IP) protection, the team considers these on a case-by-case basis; nonetheless, the company has a commercial interest in gaining a competitive advantage with IP-protected innovations.  

Given that many of the technologies being considered to achieve sustainability goals are to some degree disruptive to the packaging value chain, how has communication between entities within the value chain been? Are there particular sectors that communicate well, or areas where communication could be improved?

In her answer, Jill said that they usually look for clear communication between stakeholders along the value chain. She emphasised that its disruption will be critical for circularity to be achieved, and those disruptions could be the way products go to market going forward. Dow is open to a reconfiguration of the value chain: the players in the chain may be subject to change, and the company is even in the process of evolving its own value chain. The key to this will be to ensure that the entire value chain wins in that disruption.

Is Dow interested in developing chemically recyclable (polymer to monomer) polymer technologies?

Dow recently announced three different partnerships primarily in the area of pyrolysis as a means to recover liquid feedstocks that can be converted back into monomers.

Jill revealed that there have been two partnerships announced in Europe, and then one announced more recently in North America, demonstrating that this is an area of great interest to Dow. 

What is the push to develop new plastics that are chemically recyclable, but don’t require pyrolysis? Is Dow interested in developing new types of plastics that can be depolymerized at low temperatures with a catalyst or stoichiometric reagent, rather than focusing on pyrolysis of current plastics?

Jill answered by firstly saying that the plastics industry will always be interested in low energy processes to recover monomer building blocks. So the industry is looking at the in-between space between pyrolysis and building new materials, as well as improving pyrolysis technologies. 

 

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 Dow: innovation and collaboration priorities for more sustainable materials (key talking points)’


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