Friday, 5 October 2012

SusChem: Some Future Perspectives

Jacques Komornicki is taking over the reins of the SusChem secretariat now that Ger Spork is returning to Dow after a successful four year secondment as the ‘face’ of SusChem. SusChem News caught up with Ger and Jacques, pictured below with SusChem chairman Klaus Sommer (left), to review the recent achievements of the platform and discuss what the future may hold.

Dr. Jacques Komornicki has a chemical and materials research background and is joining Cefic from French company Arkema where he was recently R&D Director for oxygenated products. His career to date has been very much in research areas working with various materials development initiatives including high performance polymers. He describes himself as a “Research and Innovation fan”, which is why he was attracted to the secondment to Cefic and SusChem.

“It is a very different job, with a steep learning curve,” he admits. “I will need to understand the context and environment in which SusChem works in Brussels – understand the acronyms and language used in the European Commission and Parliament. I need to get to know who the key people are - who does what. My understanding, which corresponds to my personal philosophy and gives me a high motivation, is that we are working in a highly collaborative mode whether we are talking about industry partners or European Institutions.”

Fortunately he and Ger have had some time for a handover period that has helped introduce Jacques to the world of SusChem.

Value chain
Jacques comes from an area of the Chemical industry, Performance Products, where working along the value chain is natural. “To be successful the chemical industry you cannot work in isolation,” says Jacques. “You really have to collaborate with partners – both downstream and upstream – to get the best solutions. In general within the chemical industry to get the best out of R&D you need to embrace open innovation.” He also has good experience of working in EU projects and has experienced first hand the value of pan European collaborative research.

Improving the public’s perception of chemistry and the chemical industry is also very important to Jacques. “Generally in France the chemical industry is still seen by many people as polluters - the bad guys,” says Jacques. “The image does not match reality and people do not value the industry enough. I hope that working in Cefic I can help to put chemical industry back in its right place as a genuine solution provider for societal needs.”

Ger agrees and his experience indicates things are moving in the right direction. “SusChem has made a great evolution in the last years, bringing it in much better position for public and private partners,” he says. “The industry has got a stronger profile and the current environment gives a better position for our solution provider role: and a great opportunity for SusChem.”

Platform for sustainability
Looking back Ger sees many changes during his time with SusChem. “Suschem was well established as a research platform and we could build from that,” he says. “I was impressed with how things were run but had one question: what is our impact?”

Finding out what the impact was a revelation and allowed SusChem to step up a gear and consider a wider ambition. “When the early impact analysis was done in 2009 the numbers were fantastic: €600 million worth of granted projects that were SusChem inspired in the first 18 months of FP7,” boasts Ger. “And on average we are still looking at around €300 million per year. These sorts of figures made the industry take notice of the value position of our Industry platform.”

And chemistry and the chemical industry can still do better than this. “If you look at relative contribution to GDP then our sector should get nearer one billion Euros,” claims Ger. "This level of funding would be in line with our fundamental contributions to society and help to bring the support together to create full programme proposals like in a Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) with large-scale collaborative research and elements of demonstration. Now that is real impact to my mind.”

These concepts will be important in the new framework programme (Horizon 2020) to ensure that innovation gives Europe a real competitive edge.

SusChem has moved from a pure research platform to become a research and innovation platform targeting societal needs. The chemical sector has a lot to do as the solution provider for societal challenges such as producing novel lightweight materials, improving resource and energy efficiency. Challenges such as using CO2 as a feedstock for useful products are areas where the chemical industry will be the key solution provider.

Leading collaboration
Ger is keen to highlight another change in SusChem's approach. "Previously we always stepped away from the content of projects," he says. "SusChem acted as a catalyst enabling others to build projects. Now SusChem is also involved in the process of contributing to projects and driving initiatives where necessary."

This trend is highlighted over the past four years by the willingness of Cefic and other SusChem partner organisations to make a greater content contribution to projects and programme. “This is very positive,” says Ger. “The willingness to do more than just run the technology platforms is a big plus. Cefic is now willing to become a concrete partner in projects, for example E4Water, which adds great value.”

“So change is very important," continues Ger. "It is important to regularly get a new perspective."

Jacques recognises the value of these initiatives. “SusChem is now involved with a lot of other platforms and projects: for example A4M, E4Water and of course SPIRE. The industry is an actor in all value chains: an important actor, but not the only one. This means that collaboration is essential,” he says. “And it goes beyond research. To do good research, get good results, to set up a pilot line is useful but how does this translate into jobs in the EU? That is the essential question today.”

Ger agrees. “Public engagement to cross the so-called innovation ‘valley of death’ is key to address societal challenges, which are excellent growth creation opportunities and what we are doing is important here,” he believes. “This will ensure we achieve something truly sustainable and again this means that we need to know what is the impact. We need to be able to demonstrate that we are creating a sustainable future. We must be able to demonstrate the capability to generate jobs by 2020.”

Both Jacques and Ger are enthusiastic about the role of the platform leading open innovation in the chemical industry. “This is an area of great future interest for the industry,” concludes Ger. “At present a lot of people talk about open innovation, but not many actually do it. SusChem has a huge potential role to promote open innovation.”

You can contact Jacques Komornicki at the SusChem secretariat.

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