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Nanotech and the Bioeconomy

Bernard de Galembert, CEPI


Nanotechnology—defined as science, engineering, and technology conducted at the nanoscale, which is about 1 to 100 nanometers—has been a hot topic in the paper industry, as researchers work to define opportunities for industry innovation. To help papermakers explore those opportunities,

TAPPI’s International Nanotechnology Division (tappinano.org) created a dynamic four-day technical conference to bring together industry experts, scientists, leading researchers, health and safety specialists, and government policy makers from around the world.

This year, the 2016 International Conference on Nanotechnology for Renewable Materials (Nano 2016) took place in Grenoble, France, from June 13-16. As the only global conference focused on the use and production of renewable and sustainable nanomaterials, Nano 2016 attracted attendees from around the world. Bernard de Galembert, innovation and bioeconomy director, CEPI, offered the conference keynote presentation: “The Paper Industry and the Bioeconomy: Shifting Towards the Post-Petroleum Economy.”

De Galembert joined CEPI as forest director in 2002. Since 2014, as bioeconomy director he oversees issues related to bio-based products, research and innovation policies, resource availability, access to markets, access to finances for new businesses and new products. He has been a founder of the European Bioeconomy Alliance (EUBA), which gathers 12 European associations active in fields relevant for the bioeconomy. De Galembert holds a degree in Economics, with a specialization in European Affairs.
This interview was conducted for TAPPI by Jack Miller, founder and principal consultant, Market-Intell LLC.

TAPPI: Please tell us a little bit about CEPI.

De Galembert: At the Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI), our focus is on the policy arena. This involves our public affairs role in dealing with the European Union to represent the pulp and paper industry. We deal with legislators and proactively engage regarding important challenges such as climate change. We also need to get support for innovation because the industry is very competitive on a global level and will only survive if we achieve excellence. To do this we need innovation and new products.

TAPPI: At Nano 2016 you spoke about the bioeconomy. How does CEPI engage in relation to the bioeconomy?

De Galembert: Five to seven years ago the concept of “bioeconomy” started to become trendy. The pulp and paper industry can and should play a critical role here. In fact, the industry has always been producing and using biofuels, and can deliver biofuels as well as biomaterials like lignin, chemicals, and of course, nanocellulose. Biofuels have been criticized in some quarters– largely due to a perceived competition with food. Some have also charged that the climate benefits claimed for biofuels might not be as good as reported. But still, the benefits are clear. In addition to biofuels, we also have textile fibers and composites made with nanocellulose.

TAPPI: You mentioned the need for innovation. What is CEPI doing to support or encourage innovation?

De Galembert: The EU has a large framework for funding innovation, Horizon 2020. The framework has €74 billion (US$83.3 billion) for research and innovation over seven years from 2014 to 2020. We need to help the paper industry compete against other industries to get its share of this funding. To do that, we demonstrate the benefit of the raw materials we use and the products we produce: renewable, recyclable, biodegradable. We already have some front runners: vanillin, biofuel, dissolving pulp for textiles, and again, nanocellulose.

TAPPI: So how do they decide what projects to fund? Is it just about the sustainability performance?

SAVE THE DATE: Plans are already underway for the 2017 International Conference on Nanotechnology for Renewable Materials (Nano 2017), which will be held June 5-8, 2017. Keep checking tappinano.org for location, program updates, and more.

De Galembert: No, they consider economic and employment issues as well as environmental issues. Or, if you wish, profit, planet, and people.

TAPPI: Who gets the money—CEPI? Research groups? Companies?

De Galembert: In the EU, the level of technological readiness needed to obtain the funding is high. We’re forced to better assess the impact of each project; we need to provide evidence of the impact. So, usually it’s a consortium: research institutions, producers, equipment manufacturers. We’re also looking to get support to get across what’s been called “the valley of death,” where new startups die when they can’t bridge the gap from research funding and pilot scale to commercial scale.

TAPPI: Ultimately, customers will need to fund the development. If a company wants to start seriously looking at opportunities with cellulose nanofibrils (CNF) or cellulose nano crystals (CNC), they need to commit to a significant investment in R&D. Are customers part of these consortia?

De Galembert: Usually, no. Confidentiality issues and intellectual property issues make it difficult. Consortia usually include the research community and producers. Sometimes they include upstream partners—for example, equipment manufacturers—but not so much with downstream customers or end users.

TAPPI: So then, how do we get across the “valley of death?”

De Galembert: One way is to de-risk innovation. A lot of early-stage innovation is government funded, but this only goes so far. If we can get governments to guarantee investment in innovation, more companies will invest. In the EU, the €74B Horizon 2020 program is all for research, but it is not much intended to fund the leap to commercial scale. And it’s not sufficient to fund the leap to commercial scale. That’s where we need help.
In my Nano 2016 keynote, I focused on the bioeconomy. The pulp and paper industry is already there in many ways and can be a key player on the development of the bioeconomy concept.
addressed five key areas:

  1. Defining the bioeconomy. There are many definitions; some include things like organic foods, some don’t. I discussed the definition I think is most useful.
  2. We looked at the paper industry’s role—that is, the paper industry can and should be a critical player.
  3. I described the challenges: is there enough available raw material, investment, capital? What is the role of government?
  4. I presented nano as a key enabling technology. Nanocellulose can make materials lighter, more recyclable, more biodegradable.
  5. Finally, I talked about our role with policy, and how governments can help, or at least not hurt.

One key takeaway that I hope attendees will remember: I’m a strong believer in the bioeconomy as the way to move away from the oil-based economy and ultimately abandon the oil-based economy. It’s my conviction that nanocellulose should play a significant role to help the bioeconomy take its place in a cost effective manner.

This interview was conducted for TAPPI by Jack Miller, founder and principal consultant, Market-Intell LLC. Miller is the author of Nanocellulose: Technology Applications and Markets, published by RISI in 2014. He has presented on nanocellulose in the U.S. Canada, and, Brazil, and also presented at TAPPI Nano 2016 in Grenoble.

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