Ahead of his speaking role at Rethinking Materials on May 19-20, we spoke to Michael Saltzberg, Global Business Director at DuPont Biomaterials to hear more about DuPont Biomaterials’ focus when it comes to high performance, sustainable materials and the breakthrough technologies that have the most potential to transform the plastics and packaging sector.

Michael Saltzberg
Michael Saltzberg, DuPont Biomaterials

Scaling bio based and circular solutions is an ambitious and complex challenge. What drives you to achieve this, and what are the biggest barriers you face?

The commitment of our business is to provide high performance, more sustainable materials solutions to our customers and to consumers. It is critical that the world learns to reduce our reliance on fossil-based feedstocks like petroleum and natural gas because of the impact that use of these feedstocks has on the global climate and environment. Moving to bio-based materials that utilize renewable feedstocks is an important part of that change.  While the majority of fossil-based resources are used today as fuel, the portion that is used to make plastics and other materials helps perpetuate the entire fossil-based system.

At the same time, petro-based chemicals and plastics deliver substantial value to society, and in many cases result in environmental and safety benefits, such as preventing the spoilage of food, safety helmets or first-responder protective gear. When considering new alternative materials, our customers and consumers are generally not willing to compromise on the technical performance they are used to enjoying from these petro-based products. And, except for a small minority of consumers, they are not willing to pay a big premium for new environmentally-friendly materials.

As a result, the biggest challenge for a business like DuPont Biomaterials is creating materials solutions that bring substantially better environmental performance without compromising technical performance. It must all be done at a cost that allows the solution to be broadly adopted and must be scalable because that is when we will truly make an impact. It is also critical that any new material we introduce have a responsible end-of-life pathway. This usually means that the material is biodegradable, like Zemea® propanediol, or recyclable, like Sorona® triexta polymer.

Where does DuPont Biomaterials focus its attention when it comes to high performance, sustainable materials and why?

We have generally focused on high-performance technology and materials that bring differentiated technical performance in addition to substantial environmental benefits, rather than focus on low-performance commodities. We have found that this extra performance is necessary to overcome the barriers to adopting new sustainable solutions throughout our value chains. For example, Sorona® triexta fibers provide longer-lasting stretch and recovery with a better hand feel and environmental footprint than traditional stretch fibers such as spandex.

This allows our customers to create garments that last longer and maintain their stretch through more laundry cycles with reduced pilling with the ability to be recycled at end of life. Colors last longer on fabrics made with Sorona® because of its superior UV and chlorine resistance.

Another example, which is in our R&D pipeline, is Everact® PEF polymer, a material which can be used in PET bottles to downgauge the amount of plastic that is needed to provide acceptable shelf life, while preserving recyclability.

Which breakthrough technology do you believe has the most potential to transform the plastics and packaging sector?

I believe that the challenge facing us in moving from fossil-based feedstocks to renewable feedstocks is huge, and so will require a lot of different technology solutions. The solution is in collaboration along market value chains. We are proud of what we are doing at DuPont Biomaterials, but I also see a lot of other innovative companies in the market who are bringing other great new renewable materials technologies to market. Some of these will be new materials not yet available today from fossil-based feedstocks, and some will be new renewable routes to existing materials that currently made from petro feedstocks.

You will be joining us on the panel ‘Enhancing Performance: Designing Sustainable Materials to Outperform the Competition’. What insights will you be sharing during this session?

I am looking forward to joining the panel with the representatives of Checkerspot and Modern Meadow. I hope we will have a chance to talk about what I see as two of the biggest challenges in the Biomaterials space. The first is the need to align the interests of many different players in the value chain to create the change that we all want. As an example, inventing a breakthrough materials technology is only the first step.

Converters who use the material, their customers who create sub-systems, down to the final brand or OEM who market the product all must be aligned to do the application development or the new material will never make it to the market. Getting this sort of buy in amongst the diverse types of companies that make up any major value chain, whether it is Apparel, Automotive, or any other market segment, is really challenging.

Another topic I’d like to highlight is what governments can do to support the move towards more sustainable renewable materials.  Right now, the oil and gas industry enjoys a great deal of government financial support in most countries around the world. In addition, these companies are not held accountable for the impact their products have on the environment or the cost to mitigate that impact.

At the same time, most biomaterials suppliers do not receive similar support or credit for the environmental benefits they are creating. I am a big believer in the free market, but I do think it would be helpful if there was a more equitable playing field between petro-based and renewable materials. I hope we will have a chance to talk about that issue.

Who are you looking forward to connecting with at the summit, and why?

Of course it is sad not to be face-to-face with the other participants, but hopefully this will be one of the last meetings that is constrained by the COVID-19 pandemic. I am looking forward to talking with peers like Charles Dimmler and Andras Forgacs who are working at the same place in the value chain as my company, because we share similar challenges and I can always learn from them on how they are overcoming those challenges. I also look forward to interacting with brands and other users along the value chain who are driving the change to more sustainable materials at the consumer interface, because they can help ensure that we are investing in the right new materials solutions for the future.

Join Michael and hundreds of business leaders in the plastics and packaging ecosystem all committed to solving the challenges of waste, single-use and pollution through innovation in bio-based and circular solutions on May 19-20 at the Rethinking Materials summit.

See the full program for this year’s Rethinking Materials summit: