Biobased Materials conference: It’s lonely at the top!

04/17/2014

At least, it is if you happen to be looking for a biobased material at the top of the polymer pyramid. At the Biobased Materials conference last week in Cologne, this was one of the salient points made by Stefaan de Wildeman from the Aachen-Maastricht Institute for Biobased Materials, a research institute striving for non-conventional biobased innovation. It's a mystery to him why so many producers are currently aiming at biobased building blocks for the low-margin, high-volume world of commodities. The top of the pyramid is empty and, if he is to be believed, it is likely to stay that way if we don't change the way we think.

De Wildeman, who currently also works as senior scientist biobased building blocks at DSM has a background in route-scouting and (bio-)organic synthesis. At DSM, his challenge is to build a pipeline with new and exclusive building blocks derived from renewable resources. At the AMI for Biobased Materials, where he engages in research projects in this area, the main aim is to challenge the status quo. As he says: "Why are we still aiming at the chemical design of polymers in the twentieth century?"

De Wildeman is a man with a mission. Too often, he sees biobased building blocks that are readily available in nature being engineered to fit certain applications for which they are not inherently suited. Or, via a series of complicated steps, to replace robust fossil-based compounds. De Wildeman is seeking a better balance between synthesis, i.e. accessibility, and application (functionality). He envisions a growing and greening of today's range of plastic materials that goes beyond "drop-ins," but that offers a chance for "game-changing new biobased building blocks to enter and rebalance the scene."
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