“We don’t see legislation as a risk, we see it as an opportunity because it’s changing the game”: PPCJ speaks to Clariant about sustainability, collaboration and globalisation

10 June 2024

PPCJ caught up with Clariant’s Martin John, Global Vice President, Additives for Coatings & Adhesives and Ray Gonzales, Global Head of Marketing & Business Development, at the recent American Coatings Show, to discover what the company’s priorities are in the North American region and beyond

Q.What are the main industry trends that customers in this region are asking Clariant to address?

Martin John: On a headline level, besides operational discussions and supply topics such as logistics, reliability and all the hiccups you have on some supply chains, a dominating topic since COVID, is sustainability; that is the number one trend.

It’s a very big word for a lot of different things and sustainability is driven from our perspective by two factors: first on legislation, including current legislation that is in place but also upcoming, as the clock is ticking in several areas. The second factor is to reduce the carbon footprint and to help our customers and their customers to meet objectives in Scope 1, 2 and 3 targets, because most customers we deal with are active on a global basis and have these objectives. We are very focused on collaborating with our customers to make that happen.

One example of this is that we used to offer PTFE-based waxes for some application areas including coatings. We stopped selling and producing them at the end of last year, stepping completely out of that business. We are offering PTFE-free wax alternatives that we are developing for further applications with our customers. We have done that ahead of legislation, which will come in 2027, as we want to be proactive.

We have a purpose statement for our company, ‘Greater Chemistry – between People and Planet’, and that is our North Star. Innovation projects only start when there is a clear sustainability claim behind that. For every chemical platform that we have, the waxes, the stabilisers and the flame retardants, we have specific examples that all have a sustainability claim.

Ray Gonzales: On the PTFE topic, there’s really three areas that we’re focused on finding alternatives for our customers. One is inks – PTFE was used quite heavily in inks and the inks industry has been very fast to switch away from PTFE-containing ingredients. This is partially driven by brand owners who lead the trend in food packaging not wanting any inks that contain PTFE. They very quickly approached us for solutions, and we were able to provide them with wax-based products that perform as well as PTFE without containing the PTFE.

The second area is what we would consider metal coatings, like can and coil, and then the third is powder coatings. In powder coatings, PTFE is used for matting and structure building on the surface of the coating and has been the most challenging space to replace, because PTFE was quite unique in this application. Customers serving that market are actively looking for alternatives, so we’re working with each of them as well, with our wax-based solutions.

MJ: PTFE chemistry came along with high-performance properties, and it takes a strong collaborative product development effort to introduce high performing  alternatives. To highlight one briefly, we have a naturally derived product based on rice. Not the rice you eat, because we avoid a raw material that is competing with food, but a waste product from rice. We take the rice bran and we make oil from that and convert into a wax. Our alternatives for PTFE are partly based on naturally derived chemistry, which we think is a very important step forward.


Discover Clariant’s new Ceridust® 8170 M PTFE-free texturing agent for powder coatings


Q. Is it a challenge to balance the sustainability with the performance factor?

MJ: I would even throw a third element in. As well as sustainability and performance, the question is also about economics, because often the next technology is not scaled enough to be competitive. However, when it comes to the rice bran wax, which we have been working on for many years, we have developed a robust economical approach  to manage the cost situation while maintaining the high-performance standards that customers are accustomed to when using PTFE.  It’s really a matter of collaborating strongly with our customers, to identify the right solution to meet their needs.

RG: For the rice bran wax, this technology has more than one purpose. It’s really introducing a new class of wax-based products that can be used to replace many things. Alongside of replacing PTFE, it can replace montan wax demonstrating its wider appeal in the market. It has the sustainability aspect to it, but it also has a good performance aspect, and as Martin said, it’s competitive from a cost standpoint.

For example, in the case of montan waxes, the raw material is achieved through coal mining and that has become more expensive. There are also carbon taxes associated with mining and the economics of that have become significantly higher than for the rice bran wax.

Q. Do you notice differences within geographic regions as to whether customers are more interested in sustainability, or is the whole world now equally focused on it?

MJ: We work with a lot of companies that operate on a global scale and you see that they are not differentiating – they have one objective and they see the world as one. In Europe, interest is the highest in this region with many factors that are really driving sustainability – regulation is one. However, it is really a mainstream topic, a global situation, which I think is great because we can only make advancements when the whole industry around the globe sees this objective.

RG: I would say the same thing. I think the globalisation of the world is making it very difficult to be isolated by a region because many companies want to participate everywhere and that means they have to comply with the laws and expectations of customers all over the world. More and more, I see the trend being towards companies wanting to be compliant globally with what they’re offering.


Focus on sustainability: Upvalued rice bran wax delivers a high-performance sustainable alternative to conventional waxes

Q. Are there any other industry trends that are driving your R&D efforts?

RG: Because our corporate values prioritise our focus on sustainability, I think that it becomes the driver for a lot of what we do. With flame retardants for example, we are offering a new melamine-free flame retardant because melamine is becoming a substance of high concern and there is a risk that it will be regulated out, starting in Europe, potentially in five years. So, we’re trying to stay ahead by offering solutions today, because we know customers need time to change their formulations to be compliant. It’s one of our newest products that we’ve developed and launched, melamine-free Exolit AP 422 A, for customers that are ready today to move away from melamine. It’s core to our strategy, to anticipate those risks and those changes.

MJ: I would add another thing, which doesn’t apply to our industry alone. It’s a phenomenon for the entire world and society: Speed. Speed is another very important factor, especially when it comes to the development of new solutions. Customers are seeking new application areas or new features beyond sustainability. This is the reason we recently opened an application centre in the US, to be closer to our customers and their needs. The new lab here in the US compliments our network of labs in Europe and China and gives us the ability to translate requirements and unmet needs in the laboratory and develop new products. At the same time, the lab is part of our global network, leveraging other competencies that we have. There is no time to lose and speed is important.

Q. When governments add a chemical to their ‘high concern’ lists, is that what drives your R&D efforts?

MJ: It is definitely a factor, but we don’t necessarily wait for a government to make a decision. We are also screening and anticipating. We don’t see legislation as a risk, we see it as an opportunity because it’s changing the game. That’s why we are looking at situations like melamine– it’s something we have been addressing for some years in our development work, to have something ready for when this step is taken. It’s not only about substances of high concern, it’s also about other contributions we can make to sustainability improvements, especially focusing on CO2 emissions.

With your new Innovation Center in the US, are there any trends specific to the North American market that you’re focusing on, or does it go back to the world being more global?

RG: Many of the sustainability and performance needs we see are global. That’s why we leverage our relationships with large global companies to understand these overarching themes. However, having a local Innovation Center provides invaluable proximity and agility in working with North American customers. We get immediate feedback to develop solutions tailored to their specific needs and priorities. And we can conduct application testing and trials in closer partnership to enable smooth integration into existing manufacturing environments. So even as we track global megatrends, our regional lab allows for closer collaboration and customization. This helps our North American customers achieve both global competitiveness and localised process improvements through our offerings.

Sustainability (clariant.com)

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