13 August 2015

Plenary speaker interview with Tjerk de Ruiter, CEO of Corbion

EFIB2015: Interview with Tjerk de Ruiter about Corbion's strategic updates, making Europe more attractive to future investments and opportunities for biobased product use

Corbion undertook a strategy update, Disciplined Value Creation, in 2014.  Their strategy update is about value creation and disciplined execution. This resulted in differentiated market strategies and portfolio choices and a productivity improvement program for their biobased chemicals and food ingredients businesses. As part of this they plan to invest in a 75 kTpa PLA plant in Thailand, and we explore with their CEO Tjerk de Ruiter, and one of the EFIB plenary speakers, what he feels is needed in Europe, in order to make Europe more attractive for future investments.

Corbion recently announced a strategic update, so that you are even more focused on biobased chemicals than you were before – could you explain the motivation behind this move?

Corbion undertook a strategy update, Disciplined Value Creation, in 2014.  Our strategy update is about value creation and disciplined execution. This resulted in differentiated market strategies and portfolio choices and a productivity improvement program for our biobased chemicals and food ingredients businesses. Beyond this we are leveraging our lactic acid molecule and production platform into new areas, such as PLA/lactide for bioplastics, and succinic acid in our joint venture with BASF. Lactic acid is an ideal biobased platform chemical, and next to our initiatives to develop biopolymers, we are investing in our innovative gypsum-free fermentation technology based both on first and second generation biomass. In PLA Corbion will forward integrate in the PLA-bioplastic value chain, from being a lactide provider to a PLA producer. Early this year we obtained customer commitments for at least one-third of the capacity of a still to be built 75 kTpa PLA plant.

Do you have any plans for where and when this will be built?

Currently we are amidst the pre-engineering stage. This includes the development of project specific design and drawings of the process flow and plant layout. We will have more clarity on the exact timeline and location once pre-engineering is completed.

Many companies look outside of Europe to make these investments, what do you think can be done to make Europe more attractive to future investments?

The European authorities need to act decisively and with full conviction in 3 different parts of the value chain:

  • Ensure adequate supply of biomass that can be used for production of biomaterials. Today the playing field is not a “level playing field”: the current European CAP makes sugar prices in Europe higher than other geographies and incentives on biomass for biofuels are not helping the development of higher added value products made from the same biomass.
  • A clear policy to support investments in biorefineries.
  • Support consumer awareness and support market growth for bioplastics. The EU should take measures that give preferential treatment for bioplastics in specific areas where ecological benefits of bioplastics are evident.

Where do you see the biggest opportunities for biobased product use in Europe?

The initial focus has been on renewable fuels but with recent developments biopolymer plastics (bioplastics) offer great opportunities as well. Traditional big opportunities in plastics have been in packaging but as the technology matures, we will see rapid penetration in segments like electronics, appliances and automotive.

You mentioned previously the need to shorten the biobased development timeline, could you elaborate on what you think European businesses investing in biobased need to do in order to achieve this?

The biobased development process, as any new technology, is one with a high level of capital expenditure and long time to market. To make our industry truly successful we need to find ways to lower investments, shorten development timelines and improve the economics. Parallel development tracks via a platform approach will allow for multiple simultaneously developed products and leverage our investments.

What are you looking forward to most about joining EFIB in Brussels?

I look forward to meeting up with different people from the industry, and also to meeting some EU government officials to explain to them the importance and relevance of the biobased economy. Not only for the environment but also to create jobs.

Source: EFIB Forum, press release, 2015-08-03.

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