Strategy & Management

A Game-Changer

Elevance Bridges the Gap between Sustainability and Industry in the Field of Bio-Based Specialty Chemicals

27.07.2015 -

Formed in 2007, Elevance Renewable Sciences produces high-performance ingredients for use in personal care products, detergents, lubricants, and other specialty chemicals and fuel markets from natural, plant-based oils. Based on its model, the Woodridge, Illinois, USA based enterprise claims to be the first company to successfully bridge the renewables and chemicals industries. Elevance is one of the companies that could revolutionize the specialty chemicals value chain. CHEManager International asked Bob Kumpf, chief technology officer at Elevance, about his strategy to further develop the company’s innovative technologies and bringing novel bio-based specialty products onto the market.

CHEManager International: Where has Elevance come from and how did the company start?

B. Kumpf: Elevance began with a grant from the US Department of Energy in 2004, and today we are a high-growth biochemistry company delivering specialty chemicals that exceed the performance of existing products while leaving a smaller environmental footprint. These specialty chemicals are used in personal care products, detergents and cleaners, engineered polymers, lubricants and additives, and other specialty chemicals markets.

Using a proprietary and Nobel Prize-winning technology called olefin metathesis, we have built and now operate a 180,000 metric ton world-scale biorefinery in a joint venture with Wilmar International; acquired and begun converting a wholly owned biodiesel facility into a second 310,000 metric ton biorefinery; established collaborations with leading chemical industry players in feedstocks, technology, manufacturing and markets; and commercialized a string of novel, high-performance products that include cleaning and personal care ingredients and a renewable synthetic base oil.

As a high-performance, renewable, collaboration-oriented company, we are in a unique market position in the $500 billion specialty chemical market.

What is your expectation for the future market growth for bio-based specialty chemicals from natural oils?

B. Kumpf: Future market growth will be significant. Today, Elevance is commercially supplying partners with better-performing, cost-competitive renewable alternatives to petrochemicals across multiple industries. Through our groundbreaking technology, Elevance is delivering and enabling high-performance specialty chemicals that meet critical industry needs and trends. Our products, and those of our customers, are helping the industry move beyond petrochemicals to something that is better, a new generation of chemistry with a smaller environmental footprint — a new category of products we call Renewicals. Our specialty chemicals enable industry to address major market needs, such as improved solvency for better hard-surface cleaners; lubricant base oils with improved stability and fuel economy; detergents which can be more concentrated and clean better in cold water; and unique monomers for bio-based polymers and engineered plastics, including long-chain polyamides, polyurethanes and polyesters.

What are the main drivers for the market growth in these areas?

B. Kumpf: The critical industry needs and trends we are addressing are driven by regulations, customer demand and sustainability goals. Manufacturers across industries continue to look for alternative ingredients in an effort to comply with ever more vigorous environmental, health and safety regulations. These manufacturers must meet these increasingly challenging regulatory demands without compromising performance and limit the use of materials with unfavorable environmental profiles. Finding suitable alternatives with a sustainable footprint that exhibit high-performance characteristics customers demand, however, is no easy feat and has been the basis of industrywide research and development efforts.

For manufacturers of products and those who supply ingredients, industry trends provide a positive outlook for sustainable products. To meet the needs of a growing number of shoppers who choose products for sustainability as well as performance, consumer goods industry leaders, such as Procter & Gamble, Tesco, Unilever and Walmart, have taken ambitious and innovative steps to encourage their suppliers to offer more sustainable ingredients and products. For example, Procter & Gamble has committed to a 2020 goal of replacing 25% of petroleum-based raw materials with sustainably sourced renewable materials in its products.

Elevance is working with industry to address industrial and consumer demand for improved performance and sustainability by utilizing renewable feedstocks and advanced sustainable manufacturing processes to produce novel renewable building blocks and ingredients that enable performance not previously possible.

What is your strategy to participate in this growth?

B. Kumpf: Elevance uses a collaborative business model that is designed to enable innovation while reducing the investment and risk that accompany it. We have established a number of collaborations that leverage sales and marketing expertise, distribution channels, technical know-how, product and application development expertise and manufacturing infrastructure. The variety of critical market needs that can be addressed by solutions enabled by our technology create significant growth opportunities that we have only begun to address with our current collaborations. We seek to develop new and expand existing collaborations that leverage complementary capabilities and assets that will accelerate growth for us and our partners.

What are Elevance’s core technologies?

B. Kumpf: We produce our specialty chemicals using proprietary production processes based on metathesis catalysis. Elevance’s biorefinery uses a highly efficient and selective metathesis catalyst to break down natural oils and recombine the fragments to produce high-value chemicals.

Our specialty chemicals provide functional attributes that customers desire but that have not been commercially available. We produce these specialty chemicals at world scale and sell them at cost-effective, competitive prices. Our product characteristics are driving rapid adoption by customers looking for solutions to their product performance needs.

How could your model reshape the way people think about chemical ingredients?

B. Kumpf: Our focus is making better-performing specialty chemicals to improve the products that industry and consumers use every day and enable a more sustainable future for everyone. It’s clear that we can make a difference. We can do things that have never been done before — today.

We are working with others in the industry to deliver a new category of solutions, Renewicals, which are products that exceed the performance of petrochemical-based products and do so with a smaller environmental footprint.

We have already commercialized the first Renewicals and have many others in development. By combining renewable feedstocks and advanced sustainable manufacturing processes, we can address society’s demand for sustainable lifestyles.

We’re doing it today, and will continue to advance the performance and cost effectiveness of our products going forward. It represents an exciting future for the chemical industry and society.

In which areas in terms of applications do you see above-average growth opportunities?

B. Kumpf: The chemical industry serves customers and consumers worldwide, and the drivers we discussed earlier are impacting all of those customers. We have focused our efforts around three market-facing platforms: Consumer and Industrial Ingredients, where we are addressing opportunities in detergents, cleaners and solvents, personal care products, and performance waxes. Another platform is our Engineered Polymers and Coatings business, where we are working with specialty monomers for engineered polymers as well as ingredients for coatings, adhesives, sealants and elastomer applications. We have also introduced novel synthetic lubricant base oils in our Lubricants and Additives platform.

What is your vision for Elevance?

B. Kumpf: We are working to make Elevance one of the leading global specialty chemical companies, creating solutions that will help our customers address society’s demand for better, more sustainable lifestyles.