Idea to Market
A strong focus on innovation and Research & Development is one of the five pillars of Clariant’s corporate strategy. Based on extensive Research & Development resources and a strategic innovation approach, Clariant develops high-performing solutions that satisfy unmet customer needs and add value with sustainability. Clariant believes that continuously investing in innovation – even in times of economic uncertainty – is crucial for future success.
1.1. Market developments point to sustainable products and solutions
As end consumers’ awareness of product ingredients and sustainability performance rises, particularly in the cosmetics and home care segments, sustainability considerations become more important for Clariant’s direct customers and the entire value chain. The Green Deal of the European Union and similar regulatory developments in Asia and other regions also underline the need to strongly link the development of new products and services with Clariant’s sustainability ambition.
Clariant is in an excellent position to benefit from this ongoing shift, as it reflects the company’s strong focus on developing innovative, sustainable, and bio-based chemicals, as well as achieving ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets. Many new products launched in 2020 show explicit sustainability benefits and are proof of Clariant’s systematic approach to linking innovation and sustainability.
This strong ambition to lead through sustainability and innovation also gained external recognition. In 2020, Clariant was listed in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) with a best-in-class innovation score.
Chief Technology Officer
The past year was strongly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. What does this mean for Clariant’s innovation programs?
Looking back, we can be proud of having managed the crisis without major interruption of our R&D operations, except in Mumbai, India, and Palo Alto, USA, where we had to mitigate certain lockdown phases. Clariant has always tried to persistently drive its innovation programs, even under difficult circumstances. We are convinced that our investments pay off in the future and that companies that are willing to take a long-term perspective regarding innovation will benefit from it. We will thus continue to focus on research and development and innovation in line with our strategic priorities.
How did the decision to focus on three core specialty Business Areas impact Clariant’s innovation activities in 2020?
Clariant aims to move further into specialized market segments that offer higher margins and enhanced innovation potential. However, our peers are adapting their product portfolios in a similar way. Therefore, increasing the speed of our innovation processes and reducing time to market are crucial to stay competitive and reap the fruits of our strategic decisions. Our focus on sustainability-driven innovation will be further enhanced in the remaining Business Areas.
Sustainability is playing an important role in Clariant’s innovation strategy. How will you further strengthen this link?
At the end of 2020, we started to roll out a new organization called Group Innovation & Sustainability (GIS), being effective January 2021, to fully leverage our innovation and sustainability expertise and thus assure Clariant’s sustainability transformation. We embarked on setting up new sustainability targets and road maps, which can only be achieved if we continue to systematically integrate sustainability criteria into our innovation process and resulting activities.
What challenges regarding innovation are you going to tackle in the coming years?
Even though the sustainability trend presents many great opportunities for Clariant, it also creates new challenges, for example, to provide sustainable product solutions that are also cost-competitive. Therefore, the involvement of our customers in early stages of product development is of utmost importance. In the past, we used innovation workshops and joint ideation sessions to bring experts around the table. The pandemic, however, accelerated the introduction of virtual and interactive formats to connect with customers and partners. This will guide the way into the future. In addition, partnerships and collaborations along the value chain will be key to success. Circularity will require us to build new innovation ecosystems, leading the path towards new business models.
1.2. Stepping up efforts with a revised organizational structure
To support the necessary link between innovation and sustainability, Clariant further developed its innovation governance in 2020 by establishing the new Sustainability Transformation department. This new department is responsible for fully integrating sustainability in Clariant’s products and processes, with a primary task of aligning Clariant’s innovation management practices with its sustainability programs. The sustainability profile of innovation projects will be even more systematically evaluated, thereby supporting the company’s ambitious targets.
As part of »Project Clariant 2021,« the company announced the creation of the new organization Group Innovation & Sustainability (GIS), which will bundle innovation and sustainability under one roof as of January 2021. GIS will allow Clariant to enhance its transformation road map in terms of innovation and sustainability while leveraging the potential of emerging technologies and biotechnology across the Business Units.
Clariant’s Business Incubator was dissolved due to portfolio changes. Both the 3D printing and the electronic materials business have been sold in the course of the year. Business incubation will remain an important element of Clariant’s innovation strategy, but it will be executed in a more focused way. Developing new business opportunities will be a crucial responsibility of Clariant’s core Business Units. Only major transformational technologies with cross-business relevance will be developed within a central function.
1.3. Supporting the transition to a circular economy
One way to add value through sustainability is by enhancing circularity. The circular economy challenges the chemical sector to find new ways to reuse products at the end of their life cycle and close material loops, offering many new business opportunities. Clariant has been exploring possibilities to redirect waste streams for many years. In 2020, for example, Clariant started applying its strategic innovation process DIA (Discovery, Incubation, Acceleration) to systematically develop new business models using waste streams of bleaching earths for alternative applications.
With its company-wide EcoCircle initiative, Clariant promotes the transition from a one-way plastics value chain to a circular plastics economy. EcoCircle extends the focus from individual products to the entire value chain. Besides developing new circular plastics solutions, Clariant is building a network of stakeholders that are tackling the circular economy challenge by introducing worldwide EcoCircle Centers of Excellence dedicated to collaborative research and joint development of products and solutions. Specialized teams and facilities will allow Clariant to channel expertise and develop specialty products for specific circular applications. In 2020, EcoCircle became part of the »Sustainability Transformation« unit.
1.4. Shorter innovation cycles through digitalization
In addition to sustainability, digitalization significantly drives Clariant’s innovation strategy. Digitalization of processes in Research & Development allows significant gains in efficiency. An important example is the Electronic Lab Notebook (ELN) – a cloud-based, digital knowledge repository that stores Clariant’s scientific know-how by capturing all relevant information along the innovation chain. Clariant continued the rollout of the ELN in key countries in 2020.
Clariant shortens its innovation cycles and reduces time to market by exploiting the great potential of automation, miniaturization, and parallelization. In 2020, Clariant further enhanced its capacities for High-Throughput Experimentation (HTE). HTE comprises a powerful ecosystem of capabilities that can be leveraged to synthesize a vast variety of new molecules, prepare and test large numbers of formulations in parallel, as well as develop and optimize processes, to mention only a few. This allows the discovery of high-value-adding solutions and their delivery to Clariant’s customers at a much greater pace than before. The use of suitable digital enablers to store, analyze, and evaluate the large amount of data generated enables the benefits of HTE capabilities to be maximized.
Clariant is also using digital tools to develop new digital business models and new ways of collaborating with customers. The need to adopt digital collaboration tools in the innovation process was further accentuated in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
1.5. Strong technical support from four Technology Platforms
Clariant’s innovation activities are based on a strong network of eight Research & Development Centers, more than 50 Technical Centers, and over 950 employees. Research activities have been structured along four Technology Platforms – Chemistry & Materials, Biotechnology, Catalysis, and Process Technology – which collaborate closely with the Business Units to provide them with crucial technology expertise and innovative solutions.
As part of the new organizational setup under Group Innovation & Sustainability, Clariant has reallocated some of its Research & Development activities within the existing four Technology Platforms as of January 2021 and added a new fifth Technology Platform, Emerging Technologies. This platform will focus on megatrends with high relevance for several Business Units and high transformational impact on Clariant’s activities.
1.6. Technology Platform Chemistry & Materials
In 2020, one of the focus areas of the Technology Platform Chemistry & Materials was new chemistries and formulations that provide a clear sustainability benefit. In close collaboration with Business Unit Industrial & Consumer Specialties, Clariant’s chemical Research & Development developed and launched EcoTain® Velsan® Flex. Velsan® Flex is a naturally derived synergistic booster for preservative systems. It is not classified as a preservative and can reduce the preservative load of products by up to 50%. Its excellent water solubility and high Renewable Carbon Index (RCI) of 93% make this preservation booster a unique natural solution in the market. Velsan® Flex carries Clariant’s EcoTain® label, which recognizes its high RCI as well as further sustainability advantages for Personal Care formulators. The product received a bronze award at in-cosmetics™ in 2020.
1.7. Technology Platform Biotechnology
The Technology Platform Biotechnology continuously supports the Business Line Biofuels & Derivatives in further developing the EcoTain® awarded sunliquid® technology. In 2020, an innovation project was launched to further optimize the process by using cutting-edge molecular biotechnology, bioinformatics, and High-Throughput Screening. The additional investments were encouraged by the strong interest in sunliquid® and the success in licensing the technology to several industry players in Asia and Europe.
1.8. Technology Platform Catalysis
Converting greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide into valuable chemicals, and thus using carbon dioxide as feedstock, is a key trend in the chemical industry. Therefore, the development of innovative Power-to-X technologies was one of the focus fields of the Technology Platform Catalysis in 2020. One example of Power-to-X is explored in the Carbon2Chem project, a publicly funded project in which Clariant is converting CO2 off-gas from steel manufacturing into valuable base chemicals, such as methanol. Based on the very promising results achieved in the first phase of the Carbon2Chem project, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research recently decided to prolong substantial funding until 2024 to further develop the technology and to prepare for large-scale technology rollout. Clariant also participated in several other publicly funded projects in this field, bringing a unique set of active materials that are needed to make the Power-to-X technologies work. Another successful project was the development and launch of the next-generation phthalate-free polypropylene catalysts with the launch of the PolyMax® 600 series.
1.9. Technology Platform Process Technology
One of the focus fields for the Technology Platform Process Technology is data science and artificial intelligence. In 2020, Clariant’s Competence Center Data Science continued to support the Business Units in speeding up product development, improving production processes, and intensifying customer interaction. Among others, it provided critical support for the development of Navigance®, Clariant’s Munich-based start-up that uses artificial intelligence to provide real-time recommendations about control parameters to help, for example, formaldehyde and methanol producers increase production volumes and efficiency. In 2020, the first Navigance® services were successfully sold.
1.10. Group Engineering and Group Intellectual Property Management
The established four Technology Platforms have been complemented by Group Engineering and Group Intellectual Property Management. Group Engineering is responsible for managing and executing major and complex capital investment projects. In 2020, successfully delivered projects included the capacity expansion for an ethylene oxide plant in Gendorf, Germany, and a plant for Licocene® waxes in Frankfurt, Germany. Important ongoing projects are the construction of a sunliquid® plant in Podari, Romania, to produce second-generation biofuels, and a new catalyst production facility for CATOFIN™ catalysts in Zhejiang Jiaxing, China, which will address the strong growth in the propane dehydrogenation market in this region. Group Engineering is currently also finalizing the work on the new One Clariant Campus, including the Regional Innovation Center in Shanghai, China. The first teams moved into the new premises at the end of 2020.
Group Intellectual Property (IP) Management secures Clariant´s innovation via patents and trademarks as an important value generator. In 2020, it rolled out the »Digital Patent File.« This technology allows Clariant’s patent management team to access all files, even while working remotely – a function that proved to be essential to successfully manage the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, new digital tools were introduced that optimize the quality of scientific searches fueling innovation. Group Intellectual Property Management also played an important role in the divestment process of Business Unit Masterbatches by successfully accomplishing the separation and divestment of the Business Unit’s intellectual property.
1.11. Collaboration with partners, suppliers, and employees
Clariant relies heavily on collaboration across functions and businesses, as well as with external partners, to drive its innovation strategy. The Open Innovation initiative, which identifies collaboration partners in the private sector, universities, and other research institutions to source creative ideas, is a very successful example. In 2020, Clariant launched a new Open Innovation challenge to explore new opportunities in the field of sugar-based surfactants.
To complement its strong ties to different partner networks, Clariant seeks to collaborate more closely with the supplier industry to develop solutions that are more sustainable when considering the entire value chain. Clariant’s innovation team is thus closely working with Group Procurement Services to create opportunities for joint supplier innovation. In 2020, unfortunately, due to the pandemic, it was not possible to organize a dedicated supplier innovation event as Clariant did in the past. However, digital formats will allow these opportunities to be created moving forward.
The innovation potential within Clariant’s workforce is leveraged by innovation formats such as the iEngine (Innovation Engine) and the iGarage (Innovation Garage). In 2020, an iEngine was conducted by Group Technology & Innovation together with Business Unit Industrial & Consumer Specialties to develop a sustainable and easy-to-handle alternative to existing laundry detergents. An iGarage was conducted by Business Unit Functional Minerals on the issue of spent bleaching earths.
Cutting-edge innovation formats iEngine and iGarage
iEngines implement a sequence of virtual and face-to-face workshops to identify, prioritize, and develop high-quality, less obvious technology solutions for unmet customer needs. iEngines are conducted at a very early stage to eliminate unattractive options quickly, as the development of viable technology options often takes several years.
iGarages host a cross-functional team, supported by external experts and innovation coaches, that convenes off-site over two to six months to develop business options in collaboration with prospective customers and other stakeholders. By applying agile design thinking and lean start-up methodologies, their objective is to develop market-validated innovations through discovery and incubation that can be further scaled in the market by a Business Unit.
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