Fueled by a need for more efficient and sustainable solutions, industries across the globe, including chemical companies, are on the verge of changing the materials they use: Renewable raw materials are an emerging and innovative solution to sustainable energy and production needs. With this in mind, Clariant became a pioneer in the renewable raw materials space. An interview with Clariant’s Head of Start-up Business Project Biofuels & Derivatives, Markus Rarbach, explores Clariant’s innovative plant-based sunliquid® technology as well as the opportunities associated with utilizing renewable raw materials in a changing world.

How would you describe the increasing importance of renewable raw materials in the chemical sector?

MARKUS RARBACH Industry and society as a whole, face the challenge of maintaining economic growth and quality of life in a sustainable way. While limited fossil resources make up a huge part of feedstock in the chemical industry currently and in the foreseeable future, it is important for chemical companies to investigate alternative resources that support high-quality products. Sustainable processes that use renewable raw materials – to produce bio-based chemicals and biofuels – will be key to moving forward, and Clariant embraces this. Basically, staying competitive and innovative while reducing our carbon footprint as much as possible and offering the highest possible performance motivates us to continue offering our customers sustainable bio-based solutions.

A partnership for renewable raw materials

In 2016, Clariant became an anchor shareholder and exclusive global distributor of South Korean BioSpectrum, a leading provider of natural active ingredients for personal care. This strategic partnership will support Clariant’s initiative to utilize highly innovative active ingredients based on renewable raw materials.

What is your primary involvement with renewable raw materials?

At Group Biotechnology, we focus on developing new products and processes based on renewable raw materials. My team focuses on the conversion of lignocellulosic material into valuable products. This means we take non-food plant material, such as wheat straw or bagasse, the remains of sugarcane processing, and use biotechnology to convert these materials into sugars. Sugars build the foundation of biotechnological conversion, as they are the nutrient for a large number of different microorganisms – and when these organisms digest the sugars, other products such as alcohols or acids are produced. Our team designs processes and works with microorganisms to produce these products in the most efficient and sustainable way.

Video still Discover Value Additives movie (photo)

»Clariant views the use of renewable raw materials as an opportunity to take customer needs to the next level.«

Markus Rarbach Head of Start-up Business Project Biofuels & Derivatives

What projects or innovations with renewable raw materials are you currently working on?

Although the concept of using renewable resources is nothing new, using inedible plant material for chemical products is relatively new, and the challenge with doing so is finding processes that convert plant materials into products in an economically efficient and sustainable way. Clariant’s sunliquid® project resolves this challenge. With sunliquid®, we can convert wheat straw or other agricultural residues into ethanol, while both achieving greenhouse gas savings of 95% compared to fossil fuels and keeping production costs at a minimum. This makes sunliquid® a competitive option for our customers, who are looking for alternatives to starch- or glucose-based products. We offer a 100% cellulose-based, entirely integrated process that delivers high-quality ethanol or fermentable sugars. On top of that, the sunliquid® technology is thoroughly developed and has been validated in our pre-commercial plant in Straubing.

sunliquid® – competitive and sustainable cellulosic ethanol

Beyond its use as sustainable biofuel, with catalytic conversion, the cellulosic ethanol based on sunliquid® can also serve as feedstock for bio-based chemicals.

How does the material used for sunliquid® impact the amount of energy needed to produce ethanol?

The sunliquid® technology is energy self-sufficient, which is one of its greatest advantages. About four to five tons of straw produce one ton of ethanol through sunliquid®’s process. Lignocellulose, which is the biomass base of sunliquid®, is essentially mother nature’s most stable way to store sugars. Nature uses sugars as energy storage units, and lignocellulose consists of cellulosic sugars bound in long chains. By breaking these chains and converting these sugars into ethanol, they turn into a liquid energy carrier with a high-energy density that can be stored and transported easily without losing much energy in the process. Also, two additional plant-based byproducts come out of the sunliquid® process, and together these generate enough energy to power the entire production process.

Collaborations prove everyday suitability of sunliquid®

  • With Mercedes-Benz and Haltermann, Clariant successfully tested sunliquid®20 – a blend that contains 20% cellulosic ethanol – in a fleet test with series vehicles.
  • Clariant tested three Scania trucks running on ethanol at its production plant in Suzano, Brazil.
  • In a collaboration with Werner & Mertz, the producer of products of the Frosch brand, the use of cellulosic ethanol has been extended to detergents, cleansers, and cleaning agents.

What is a real-world application for ethanol produced from Clariant’s sunliquid® technology?

The most obvious application is in vehicles – sunliquid® ethanol is an efficient and most sustainable energy source for liquid fuels. This is of special importance as biofuels continue to play an important role in reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) in transportation. Clariant, for example, took advantage of the opportunity of using sunliquid® in its own trucks starting at its Suzano plant in São Paulo, Brazil. Through a partnership with Scania, a heavy-duty vehicle manufacturer, Clariant acquired three cargo trucks, now known as Ecotrucks in mid-2015. After nearly a year of using the Ecotrucks, Clariant experienced a 90% reduction in CO2 emissions compared to the diesel engines used in its trucks before. In a second phase, the trucks started using second-generation ethanol produced from sugarcane bagasse with Clariant’s sunliquid® technology. It was also demonstrated in a fleet test with Mercedes-Benz series vehicles that sunliquid® ethanol helps increase sustainability in transportation without having to change vehicle fleets and infrastructure. Beyond this, with catalytic conversion, cellulosic ethanol can be utilized as feedstock for bio-based chemicals or the sugars produced in the first step can be used for fermentation of other bio-based chemicals and building blocks (see figure above).

What inspired Clariant’s use of renewable raw materials, and how is Clariant hoping to continue advancing their use now and in the future?

I think there are many different aspects that need to be considered here. First of all, sustainability is one of Clariant’s strategic pillars, and one aspect of this pillar is reducing our carbon footprint by increasing the use of renewable raw materials. This is not just important to Clariant, but also to many of our customers. Secondly, the core of our efforts focusses on discovering value for our customers. Renewable raw materials play an important role here. By leveraging the potential that lies within the use of renewable materials, we can add value to existing products and also discover value in new products and applications for our customers. This added value may have its foundation in innovation, but it also supports economic competitiveness, sustainability, and feedstock security. The chemical industry is looking to broaden its feedstock base. Renewable materials are, in general, not typically subject to high price fluctuations compared to limited fossil resources. And fortunately, renewables will be available in substantial amounts for the long-term. Clariant will always focus on customer needs – and as the bio-based industry grows, Clariant will remain at the forefront in bridging customer needs with sustainable and innovative solutions.

Renewable raw materials for EcoTain® products

Clariant uses lignocellulose in sunliquid®. Beyond this, many EcoTain® products are based on renewable raw materials:

Plantasens® Olive Squalane

Personal care ingredient based on renewable raw materials

  • Exceptionally silky touch
  • Plant-based (100% olive origin)
  • Emollient and heat stable


Surfactant based on renewable raw materials

  • Plant-based, available as RSPO Mass Balance quality (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil)
  • 94 – 95% RCI (Renewable Carbon Index)
  • Approved by the recognized COSMOS standard

Quinacridone pigments

High performance pigment based on renewable raw material (succinic acid)

  • Lower carbon footprint compared to fossil-based products
  • Identical product specification (bio/petrochemical succinic acid)

GRI Indicators