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BASF: Cost and perception remain barriers to green chemistry uptake

Science - Labs - Woman researcher. © Copyright: Press photo BASF

The cost of bringing a new material or substance to the market remains a key barrier to scaling up 'green' chemistry, according to Patrick Harmon, BASF's industry manager in North America.

Next month, Dr Harmon will join other panellists at the 13th Green Chemistry and Commerce Council (GC3) roundtable. Organised by the US-based multi-stakeholder group the roundtable is an annual forum for business leaders to exchange strategies and best practices on how to scale up green chemistry across supply chains.

Speaking to Chemical Watch ahead of the forum, Dr Harmon said bringing a new material or substance to the market involves large costs related to research and development and, with the further implementation over the years of REACH and the new TSCA, "there is more testing required than ever before".

This isn't a bad thing, he said, but it does incur additional costs which is likely to halt some companies, particularly smaller firms, from fully developing and achieving large scale supplies of green alternatives.

The cost of making a new material or substance beyond the pilot plant – a small version of a future large-scale plant – "can be in the region of tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to scale up".

Before you get people to invest, said Dr Harmon, you need to have a market and the availability of new chemical products is inhibiting this.

"I have found that start-up companies have a lab scale or pilot plant scale substance," he said.  "Sometimes we’re looking at things we need five or ten years down the line, which means this sort of scale isn't an issue. However, I have ideas for some products that I'd like to see available in a couple of years and unfortunately the new materials and substances at this scale are not commercially available.

'While there is demand for green chemistry in certain sectors and applications, there is a big need to create stronger demand across the marketplace,' Patrick Harmon, BASF North America

"While there is demand for green chemistry in certain sectors and applications, there is a big need to create stronger demand across the marketplace," said Dr Harmon. 

And this is where consumer awareness and interest in greener chemicals and products plays a key part. He says there is still not enough knowledge or interest from the consumer side at this point.  

Perception

The differences in perception, definition and understanding of green chemistry across the supply chain also make mainstreaming it an uphill struggle, he said.

As an example, Dr Harmon said certain people will, when thinking about green chemistry, immediately turn to bio-based materials from renewable resources. While this is a part of it, he adds, it isn't the only aspect of green chemistry.

"Because of this common perception and lack of understanding around green chemistry, often those connecting it to bio-based substances will assume it's too expensive, may not work and so will avoid going down this route," he said.

At this year's GC3 roundtable, which will be held in Tennessee on 8-10 May, Dr Harmon will be speaking about BASF's technology scouting network, where start-up companies, and other organisations, such as universities, are invited to collaborate on potential green chemistry solutions.

Dr. Harmon's "pitch" forms part of the GC3's Green and Biobased Chemistry Startup Network Technology Showcase. The aim of this network, said Professor Joel Tickner, director of the GC3,  is to drive the development and market pull of green chemistry technologies by creating a forum to "connect innovative startups with larger GC3 member chemical suppliers, brands, retailers and investors for partnerships and investment".

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