Where will the next materials technology breakthrough come from?

Ahead of the Rethinking Materials summit on May 19-20, the organizers spoke to technology pioneers to uncover which breakthrough solution they believe has the most potential to scale up and transform the plastics and packaging sector.

“Rethinking materials means taking a novel approach to ALL materials, waste included. How might waste be turned to wealth? What approaches can go beyond the concepts on net-zero to net benefit? These questions require new thinking and a portfolio approach,” shares Tony Perrotta, PA Sustainable Materials Expert at PA Consulting


“We believe biology will be the next big technology for complex chemical reactions, both in breaking down plastics and creating new materials. Biology naturally grows and evolves and recycles. Today’s tools in synthetic biology are starting to make this a reality,” explains Jun Axup, Chief Science Officer and Partner at IndieBio

“Biomanufacturing has come of age. We are driving this at Checkerspot through advances in genomic sequencing, chemistry and material science, and data analysis. With biomanufacturing, we are able to do more with less by allowing microbes to make the materials we need. Checkerspot represents one entity within the entire growing biomanufacturing ecosystem – an industry that is ripe with innovative companies, technologies, and solutions to the crises we face as a planet. We recognize that in order to address monumental challenges like climate change, it is necessary to think in terms of collaboration as it is in these collaborative partnerships that we make tangible and impactful strides towards a post petroleum future,” details Charles Dimmler, Co-Founder and CEO at Checkerspot


“The technology(ies) that have the most potential to transform the plastics industry are those that are targeting a drop-in molecule that gives the same performance AND economics as the traditional petroleum based product. In other words, they are not relying on a “green premium” for their technoeconomic analysis to be viable. In our point of view, processes/technologies where the inputs are based on 1G sustainable sugars will have a higher chance of getting off the ground and scaled to their full potential versus stacking 2G sugar inputs’ availability and quality risks on top of any technology’s inherent scale-up risks,” shares Timothy Bauer, General Manager – Growth Ventures at Fluid Quip Technologies

“As we continue to see in the news and around us in the environment, proper disposal of plastics at the end of their useful life remains an issue that needs to be tackled across the value chain. PLA bioplastic is already being mechanically recycled and does not contaminate traditional recycling streams. Typically, mechanically recycled PLA is not approved for food contact applications, which limits its use. To solve this issue, Total Corbion PLA has developed a chemical recycling process that is able to convert used PLA applications back into food contact approved PLA with the properties of virgin PLA. We are already using this technology for our internal industrial scrap and are now looking to expand this capability to post-industrial and post-consumer PLA. The impact on the plastics and packaging sector would be that we would need fewer feedstocks, more applications could be made from recycled PLA and more items could be collected for recycling at the end of their useful life, reducing the amount of plastics ending up in landfill or incineration,” explains Thomas Philipon, CEO at Total Corbion PLA


Breaking the Plastic Wave by Oxford University and others has identified compostable packaging as one of the key substitutes to replace conventional plastic where it cannot be reduced or reused. There is overwhelming evidence that conventional flexible packaging has no viable end of life and on average less than 4% is recycled. Compostable packaging is a game changer because it can be collected as part of the organic waste stream, which will result in valuable compost and healthy soil,” shares Daphna Nissenbaum, CEO and Co-Founder at TIPA


“Integrating digital technologies will be THE key to unlocking scalable circular packaging solutions.  Our toolkit of materials and processes (production, logistics and end of life) is already in reasonable shape.  The main technical challenge now is making informed big bets on long-term transformations that must be economically viable and won’t inadvertently create more complexity.  Digital technologies will accelerate any breakthroughs by enhancing our abilities to model, optimize and adapt packaging systems with significantly less risk,” comments Darren Ragheb, Strategic Programmes Manager at CPI


On the other hand, there is also no one-size-fits-all solution and multiple technologies could all contribute to impactful breakthroughs.

Rich Altice, President & CEO at NatureWorks says “The invention, growth, and scaling of bioplastics like Ingeo is already transforming the plastics and packaging sectors, and we are just getting started when it comes to understanding how biopolymers and their unique attributes contribute to new functionality. There is no silver bullet, therefore multiple technologies are needed to solve the many challenges facing the plastics and packaging industry today. For example, the use of industrially compostable plastics not only addresses several single use plastic challenges, but it is also a key enabler to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving soil conservation opportunities via food waste diversion.”

Wherever the next technology breakthrough comes from, Tato Bigio, Co-Founder and CEO at UBQ Materials shares “As long as a technology is clean, efficient, and commercially viable, without any dependence on grants, incentives or support, it has the potential to make real impact. Across the board it is important that this impact is measured consistently with such tools as third-party audited Life Cycle Assessments and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) KPIs.”

There has never been a more critical time for the industry to come together, share experiences and learnings to drive forward innovative solutions and scale up technologies.

Michael Saltzberg, Global Business Director at DuPont Biomaterials shares “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 are currently made from petro feedstocks.”

Collaboration plays a pivotal role in the success of accelerating ambitious, scalable solutions. The Rethinking Materials summit on May 19-20 will present new opportunities for international partnerships and investment in the changing landscape of plastics, bio-based alternatives, and circular solutions.

Contact Jamie Alexander or book online at rethinkingmaterials.com/register. We look forward to welcoming you to the summit.