'Provide!': flexibility is the key

29 Sep 2014

Developing advanced process technology in the chemical industry that meets the needs and can be implemented rapidly: that is the aim of the shared innovation programme 'Provide!'. Partners in industry shared their visions and wishes regarding the focus of the programme at a round table session in Eindhoven, the results of which will be used to launch the programme in January 2015.

'We've opted for chemistry with a high added value', explains TNO's Martijn de Graaff. 'Making new kinds of chemistry possible with new process technology. We held a meeting on 30 June to show the trends and discuss them with industrial partners active in both commodities and specialties and fine chemicals. What are the areas where things are going well? What does the future look like? What will be needed to achieve the expectations? With our shared innovation programme Provide! we aim to connect up with the direct needs in the market. The participants will focus on the topics that we decide to tackle in the programme.'

Increasing profit margins

'Energy is very important in the chemical industry', De Graaff goes on. 'Energy prices in Europe are high, compared for instance with the US. This programme is not about developing technology to save energy, however; we've opted specifically to look at the product side, at increasing added value. The chemical industry in Northwest Europe, especially in the Netherlands, is largely concerned with producing commodities – large volumes with low added value, hence small profit margins. Our aspiration is to increase added value, by working together on process technology that makes new products possible efficiently and flexibly, or that cuts costs. TNO is at home in the development of both chemistry and process technology, so we're in an excellent position to connect the two sides.'

Need for flexibility

'Unlike China, the Middle East, North America and Brazil, for instance, Northwest Europe does not have much in the way of natural resources. Where we do excel, however, is in our knowledge and technology. How can we utilize that to keep our industries competitive? What new products or technologies do we need? An important trend that we've identified is the need for flexibility, in other words responding more rapidly to customer demand, being able to launch new products quickly, being able to deal with regional differences. Following the round table conference we are focusing on three visionary ideas of flexibility and high added value. Then we intend to deploy five technologies that will contribute to this in the short term, namely flow chemistry, separation technology, electrochemistry, particle engineering and modularization. Business case analysis and new business models will be important supporting activities.'

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