Solvay
2019 Annual Integrated Report

Together with customers and partners, Solvay innovates to develop sustainable solutions addressing the key drivers that will shape our future and address the sustainability needs of the world: ligweighting, electrification, resource efficiency, healthcare, digitalization and bio-based solutions. Solvay develops advanced materials, specialty chemicals and a more sustainable chemistry to bring valuable solutions to its customers and to fulfill the present and future generations’ needs and ensure their access to natural resources.

75%

of expected Research and Innovation revenue from sustainable solutions

€336m

Research and Innovation efforts

2,100

Research and Innovation staff

240

First Patent Filings

18%

New sales ratio

Definition

Research and Innovation policy supports Solvay’s ambition to grow profitably while reducing its environmental footprint and increasing the proportion of its revenue that meets the challenges of sustainable development. Global Business Units and Functions are working together using a cross-functional approach to provide customers with significant added value through innovative and competitive solutions tailored to the present and future needs of end-users.

Management approach

Innovation levers driving Solvay Research and Innovation efforts

  • A process of innovation excellence to improve efficiency and shorten time to market: this process was launched in 2014 and has been rolled out in all Global Business Units throughout the Group; it covers all aspects of the innovation process, from ideation and market validation all the way to scale-up and intellectual property protection;
  • An extended network of open innovation through partnerships with academics and key market players to maximize efficiency and tap into the creativity and competencies of the outside world;
  • Investments in start-ups and venture capital funds that allow Solvay to develop partnerships for accelerating developments in strategic areas.

Solvay has also dedicated 17% of its total Research & Innovation efforts to corporate activities, with the clear intention of maintaining a healthy portfolio of adjacent and breakthrough projects aimed either at building know-how and competencies in emerging technologies or at developing diversification and new business development opportunities through breakthrough innovations.

Five major scientific areas

The Group’s breakthrough innovation projects have a typical time frame of four to seven years and can be grouped into five major scientific areas:

  1. New supramolecular materials: a new class of materials with the potential to overcome the traditional technical trade-offs. The Group will first concentrate on supramolecular polymers, building on key properties of Solvay’s unique and broad portfolio of polymers, in order to create a new class of sustainable properties enabling recycling, self-healing, etc.;
  2. Surface modification: within surface technologies, Solvay’s first focus will be on anti-deposit solutions addressing key unmet needs in market applications, for example where cleaning might be an issue, affecting the yield of the devices, while avoiding the use of cleaning agents or hazardous chemicals;
  3. Functionalized biomolecules: the aim is to develop special chemicals from bio-based products, enabling Solvay growth engines to bring new solutions with minimal environmental footprints to the customers in their markets;
  4. Sulfide chemistry: Solvay wants to lead the new sulfur-based chemistry, which has not yet been investigated. The Group sees huge potential here and thinks it could bring value to sustainable energy and electronic applications;
  5. Breakthrough processes: Solvays intends to invent breakthrough process technologies aiming at drastically minimizing the plants’ environmental footprint, safety impact, and capital expenditure intensity.

Growth Acceleration Program for Businesses

Alongside the implementation of growth initiatives and breakthrough innovation, Corporate Research and Innovation has established the "Global Business Units-Driven" program, which helps diversify Global Business Unit portfolios by giving them additional skills and resources to boost innovations. These projects are aimed at deploying new technology in an existing market or adapting an existing technology to a new market. They are expected to bolster Research and Innovation and generate short-term sales (two to five years), hence their importance for Global Business Units.

This process is combined with Marketing Excellence initiatives, aiming at promoting technology solutions or detecting unmet market needs, expanding the impact beyond Global Business Units roadmaps.

2019 Key achievements

New platforms

Solvay launched two new platforms, the Thermoplastic Composites Platform and Battery Materials Growth Platform, in order to speed-up the development of dedicated materials, reinforce customers’ engagement and reduce time to market.

  • Solvay is a leading supplier of thermoplastic composites, powered by an unmatched portfolio of high-performance thermoplastic polymers. Solvay opened two innovation centers in 2019 dedicated to thermoplastic composites in the United States and Europe (Solvay headquarters), reinforcing its research and innovation capabilities and engagement with customers in high performance materials for the aerospace, automotive, and oil & gas markets.
  • Solvay is in the driver’s seat developing next-generation materials for liquid and solid-state batteries, meeting the automotive industry’s rising demand for electric vehicles (EV). Solvay’s unique portfolio of solutions tackles the biggest challenges faced by this industry today: developing lighter, safer, long lasting batteries — and all at a low cost.

Research and Innovation collaboration

Solvay continued to develop collaborative innovation in 2019.

Solvay cares about working together with its customers, with academia, and with other companies or startups in order to leverage multiple sources of ideas to identify new solutions. Overall, the Group currently manages more than 100 collaborative innovation projects.

In Europe, Solvay is fully involved in the Horizon 2020 program, notably on the field of batteries, with: CoFBAT (high capacity cobalt free batteries), Spider (high energy density batteries) and Naima (Na-ion materials battery cells for non-automotive applications), but the Group is also part of the European Battery Alliance and IPCEI (Important Project of Common European Interest) working to develop tomorrow’s solid-state battery, including the state-of-the-art electrolytes, electrode binders, and separators needed for highly efficient batteries.

Solvay is also engaged in the LIFE program, specifically with STIMUL (seed treatments for the agricultural sector), and in many more multidisciplinary topics with National institutes, such as: Innoviris (Belgium), ANR and Ademe (France).

Solvay is engaged with more than 40 clusters, associations and PPP’s (Public-Private Partnerships), such as SPIRE (Sustainable Process Industry), CEFIC (The European Chemical Industry Council) and SusChem (Sustainable Chemistry).

Solvay is heavily involved in scientific collaborations with top universities in Europe, China, South Korea, the USA, and Brazil, as well as partnerships in Joint Research Units with the CNRS (National Scientific Research Center) in Lyon (France) on materials science, in Bordeaux (France) on microfluidics and high throughput screening, in Shanghai (China) on organic chemistry, and in Bristol, Pennsylvania (USA) on advanced formulations.

The most extensive form of collaboration is long-term partnerships with carefully chosen institutions such as EPFL in Switzerland and AIST in Japan. Solvay signed a contract with AIST in January 2019 and is the first non-Japanese industrial player to partner with AIST following Japanese authorities’ decision to open its research to non-Japanese companies. There is a strong complementarity in terms of skills between Solvay and AIST, for instance in the field of specialty chemicals synthesis in order to reduce CO2 emissions and improve resource efficiency.

Venture capital and start-up

Direct Investments: In 2019 Solvay’s corporate venturing team closed two early stage investments:

  • Noble.AI, a US-based AI software platform startup focused on science-based R&D problems (press release);
  • Invizius, a spin-out of Edinburgh University working on a solution to improve the biocompatibility of renal dialysis systems (press release).

As part of its decision making process, Solvay Ventures is using the internally developed “Sustainable Portfolio Management (SPM)” tool to assess potential investment cases.

After several years of collaboration, Solvay Ventures sold MultiMechanics to Siemens. MultiMechanics develops multiscale material modeling and simulation software that virtually predicts failure in advanced materials. This multi-year partnership has helped accelerate the development of Solvay’s pipeline of high performance polymer and composite materials for the aerospace and automotive industry while decreasing development costs drastically. (press release)

Fund-of-Funds: Since inception, Solvay Ventures has joined a total of 12 specialized venture funds, which have assembled portfolios totalling 141 startups as of end-2019. 45 of these companies are developing sustainable energy technologies (generation, storage, efficiency); 13 are working on bio-based chemicals and 20 are dedicated to solving health-related issues. For example, in 2019:

Incubator: In 2019 Solvay Brussels Campus launched a new business incubator, THE SPARK, a project support structure. Its first beneficiary is ABEE, a start-up developing battery solutions for e-mobility.