Innovation fuels Solvay’s short and long-term growth. We had already begun implementing a significant shift in our Research and Innovation (R&I) strategy to ensure a stronger focus on our customers’ needs and financial returns, which was accelerated in 2020.
Innovation is in Solvay’s DNA: together with Solvay One Planet, it is a key pillar of our G.R.O.W. strategy. It is also at the core of our Purpose – to bring new solutions to the challenges facing the planet and contribute to building a better, more sustainable world.
New innovation strategy: increasing the value of our portfolio
To accelerate our innovations, in 2020, we implemented a new strategy with three criteria for moving forward with an innovation project: it must advance our G.R.O.W. strategy, it has to be aligned with our Solvay One Planet targets and it must achieve financial returns within a clearly defined timeframe.
While previously each GBU had its own innovation strategy, in 2020, we made the shift to bond our teams together for the first time. Through close collaboration between the R&I, marketing and strategy teams, we conducted a joint review of our pipeline of innovation projects to identify the best opportunities, matching our capabilities with current and future market needs. Breaking down silos allowed us to focus our investments on high-growth potential businesses and projects (the G pillar in our G.R.O.W. strategy) that will increase our revenues. By coming together, we also had a holistic view of the competencies we had and what areas we needed to develop to better meet our customers’ needs.
“In 2020, we reallocated our resources according to our G.R.O.W. strategy, which led to a significant increase in the value of our innovation portfolio. Now, 80% of our resources are going to larger, high impact projects.”Nicolas Cudré Mauroux, Group General Manager Research & Innovation
We now embed circularity from the start in our projects to ensure our innovations and solutions fit closely with our Solvay One Planet roadmap and deliver superior growth. All projects in our innovation portfolio are assessed through our Sustainable Portfolio Management (SPM) tool, which tests if they will bring benefits to society and the environment while also demonstrating a lower environmental impact in the production phase.
of expected R&I revenue from sustainable solutions*
* According to our Sustainable Portfolio Management methodology
Bonding with customers to create more value
Our new organization puts the customer at the center. R&I teams are involved from the beginning when potential projects are evaluated. We have researchers with a marketing profile who actively participate in assessing potential new projects, as they have a deep understanding of the customers’ needs and their pain points. This is unique in the industry. These direct contacts with key players in the value chain strengthen our collaborations with customers during the innovation process.
A good example of this collaboration is our Actizone™ innovation, a disinfectant technology, which instantly destroys over 99.9% of microorganisms including coronaviruses for up to 24 hours.
“The fundamental work we have done in hard surface disinfection, to understand the mode of action at molecular level, helped us quickly connect with the scientists of one of our customers and discuss their challenges in the context of the pandemic.”Jean-Christophe Castaing, Solvay Novecare R&I Open Innovation Director, Solvay Fellow
At Solvay, we are able to combine elements of our diversified portfolio of technologies to provide tailor-made solutions for customers’ unmet needs. This is a major source of value that makes us stand out among our competitors.
Innovating to phase out PFAS*
Solvay does not use PFOA or PFNA substances, and consistent with our commitment to environmental stewardship, we phased them out long before the legal requirement to do so. We are now using a limited number of compounds from the PFAS family of chemicals. They are used as processing aids in the manufacturing of specialty polymers for many important industrial applications such as renewable energy installations, hydrogen batteries and lithium batteries. Committed to raising the bar, we mobilized our best experts and quadrupled our research for alternatives. We’ve now developed a non-fluorosurfactant technology, which was introduced earlier this year to our customers and partners who are qualifying it. We expect the production to be effective by mid-2021. Where the use of these alternatives is not yet possible, we are constantly improving emission treatment technologies enabling nearly 100% containment of our operations from the air and water near our facilities.
*Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances
Increasing agility and speed
Our plans to ramp up our innovation agility were accelerated by the Covid crisis. In 2020, we improved the use of robust methodologies and digital tools (data mining, modeling & simulation, machine learning, IoT in the lab) to maximize productivity.
We also adapted our processes to react to the rapidly changing environment: we delayed some projects and accelerated others. Innovations applied to one industry can be the answer to challenges in other industries as well. One example is our new additive that helps make tomatoes grow faster:
Sustainable solutions to make tomatoes grow faster
Solvay teams developed an environmentally-friendly solution for farmers to accelerate the growth of tomatoes grown in greenhouses. By combining a UV protection film (developed by Solvay) with an additive created by a start-up, we can modify the wavelength of sunlight, convert rays usually not absorbed by plants and make them contribute to photosynthesis. This makes tomatoes grow and ripen faster and increases harvests by up to 20%. This technology was first meant for photovoltaic applications, but the teams realized that it could also answer growing needs in another promising market.
In addition, we implemented a start-up mentality to spur quick innovation delivery and explore new transformational areas. We are currently developing a Group-wide technology scouting effort to identify new, breakthrough technology-based growth opportunities. After a selection process in close alignment with Group’s G.R.O.W. strategy, we provide a team with seed funding to develop solutions within a given time period adopting agile management principles. A few selected topics are incubated with more resources to reach a minimum viable solution.
“The Group Technology Scouting effort gives the teams freedom to go beyond while remaining connected with our Strategy. It’s about daring to go for our wildest growth dreams!”Thomas Canova, R&D Portfolio Management Director
Three customer-centric growth platforms
We developed three dedicated transversal platforms in 2020 that gather all the Group’s technologies and expertise, and provide one unique entry point to the Group for customers. These platforms serve our fast-growing markets such as clean mobility and clean energy (our Materials businesses), thus contributing to our progress towards the Paris Agreement climate targets. We are investing selectively in these platforms.