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Innovation

Goals

Borealis has the following innovation-related goals:

  • in Polyolefins (PO), to continue to develop unique products and solutions based on proprietary technology with high purity, improved performance and recyclability;
  • in Hydrocarbons & Energy, to evaluate new technologies, improve energy efficiency and emissions and improve feedstock purity and flexibility as well as contribute to the circular economy with alternative feedstocks, chemical recycling and CO2 avoidance; and
  • in Circular Economy Solutions (CES), to develop technologies for mechanical, solvent and chemical recycling that will contribute to achieving circularity in manufacturing and using polyolefins.

More generally, the Group has a continued innovation focus on health, safety and the environment (HSE), project implementation and innovation delivery.

Key Achievements and Results

During 2020, Borealis made further progress with its innovation projects across the Group.

In Polyolefins, Borealis continued its key innovation programmes, resulting in:

  • breakthrough compounds for automotive, energy and new business development;
  • new products, including the PE100RC family of advanced pipe products, which are among the best products on the market;
  • 114 priority patent applications being filed in 2020; and
  • a total of 27 new products being launched during 2020.

In Hydrocarbons & Energy, innovation achievements in the year included:

  • scouting and selecting chemical recycling technology for steam cracker integration;
  • implementing bio-feedstock for the Bornewables™ line of products; and
  • setting up and defining a research strategy for carbon neutrality of the Group’s crackers and aromatics plants.

In Circular Economy Solutions, high-performing polyethylene and polypropylene film grades for highly circular flexible packaging were launched and new recyclable polypropylene-based food packaging has attracted widespread attention from customers.

Introduction

Innovation is fundamental to Borealis’ ability to contribute to the circularity of Polyolefins and to creating added-value products that benefit society. It also helps the Group to improve its competitiveness and enhance its efficiency and sustainability, and therefore has a direct impact on people, the planet and profit.

Borealis’ global innovation community comprises more than 500 employees. The Group spends approximately 1.8% of its revenue on innovation and R&D each year in line with Borealis’ position as the technology powerhouse of the industry.

In Polyolefins, innovation focuses on providing solutions to societal challenges, for example, by developing technologies that are essential to achieving circularity in manufacturing and use of Polyolefins. It is also instrumental in developing products that are increasing food durability through efficient packaging, improving the effectiveness of water and energy distribution or enabling new medical applications. Innovation is therefore driven by market needs and is focused on specific outcomes. It enables Borealis to remain among the leading European polyolefins producers as the only producer that operates all types of polymerisation processes. Borealis is also able to use its leading technology position in venture-based licensing, in which Borealis provides the technology and its partners bring their complementary strengths.

Similarly in Hydrocarbons & Energy, Borealis looks to find innovative approaches to using new feedstock sources, improving resource efficiency and reducing energy consumption and flaring, which in turn reduces emissions of greenhouse gases and other substances such as dust. Hydrocarbons & Energy’s innovation activities also include CO2 avoidance and CO2 utilisation opportunities as well as chemical recycling.

Innovation Strategy and Culture

During 2020, the Group renewed its technology strategy to ensure it is aligned to the Group strategy as well as to the marketing and asset strategies, which are also being revised.

The renewed technology strategy has a strong focus on the circularity of materials. In particular, it:

  • addresses the technologies for recycling plastics in the CES part of the strategy;
  • defines highly specialty materials as targets that enable design for recycling;
  • enables adding of value by developing highly specialty materials via new catalyst technologies, and/or via compounding; and
  • prepares for and enables the Group’s further growth by preparing Borealis’ proprietary technologies for venture based licensing, making them attractive for various market and geographical regions.

In Polyolefins, Borealis has a Value Creation through Innovation strategy that sets it apart from other companies. This is because Borealis’ strategy does not focus on one product or solution but on the entire polyolefins value chain. Together with Borouge, Borealis examines the complete life cycle of a product: how it can be created, processed, deployed and, ultimately, recovered or recycled. Special focus is given to circular economy solutions, developing new recyclates based on polymer recycling technologies with a focus on new polymer compounds and monomer recycling technologies.

The Visioneering Philosophy™ describes this drive towards Value Creation through Innovation. This philosophy is about pushing the boundaries of science to develop customer solutions with exceptional performance. This means understanding what the customer wants and leveraging the right competencies, tools and expertise to develop the best solution with a specific service level. Borealis therefore works to address the challenges of society with smarter,more sustainable solutions for the future. Hydrocarbons & Energy is following Borealis’ open innovation strategy in its cooperation with OMV at the companies’ shared location in Schwechat, Austria. Together, Borealis and OMV are looking to advance the monomer recycling of post-consumer plastics. This collaboration will soon be significantly intensified, in part because of OMV becoming Borealis’ majority shareholder.

Evaluation of monomer recycling technologies is ongoing in order to obtain virgin polymer products based on feedstock from recycled plastics. Borealis is also participating in the “Cracker of the future” consortium, targeting a new furnace concept that uses renewable electricity rather than fossil fuels to significantly reduce carbon emissions.

Organisational Structure

Borealis’ key innovation sites are its Innovation Headquarters (IHQ) in Linz, Austria, and two Innovation Centres in Stenungsund, Sweden, and Porvoo, Finland. Three PE and PP pilot plants are also integral to Borealis’ competencies in Innovation and Technology. Two of these pilot plants are in Porvoo and one is in Schwechat, Austria. Borealis recently announced the appointment of Erik van Praet as Vice President Innovation & Technology.

The Group’s innovation facilities engage in independent but coordinated efforts, with the common aim of developing innovative solutions that provide added value for customers and end users. The IHQ’s main R&D focus is on polymer design and compound research for polymer applications in the energy, automotive, advanced packaging and healthcare industries. In the Innovation Centre in Stenungsund, the focus is on polymer design, scientific services and R&D in the area of energy and infrastructure industry solutions. The Innovation Centre in Porvoo is an important site for advanced catalyst and process research as it includes catalyst scale-up facilities and fully integrated Borstar® PE and PP pilot plant lines. All Innovation Centres have close collaborations with local and international universities, and research institutes.

The Borouge Innovation Centre in Abu Dhabi, UAE, cooperates closely with Borealis’ Innovation Centres to explore enhanced infrastructure, automotive and advanced packaging application solutions.

Engagement with Industry Stakeholders

In addition to its internal collaborations, Borealis undertakes a wide range of engagement with relevant stakeholders in innovation. It is a member of the Dutch Polymer Institute (DPI), attends polyolefins industry conferences and publishes papers. The Borealis Innovation and Technology management team and some of the lead scientists are invited to present at numerous leading conferences around the globe each year, such as the Society of Plastics Engineers International Polyolefins Conference and the Polyethylene-Polypropylene Chain Global Technology & Business Forum. Borealis is also a member of the European Ethylene Producers Conference (EEPC) and participates in a number of EEPC issue groups.

This year, due to the travel and gathering restrictions in almost all countries, many of these meetings were moved online, while others have been postponed. The Borealis team is keeping its activity as high as possible given the circumstances. In some cases, such as DPI meetings, moving online has increased the efficiency and value of participation in 2020.

Borealis Innovation Process

The Borealis innovation process comprises Idea, Innovation Project and Portfolio Management.

Idea Management is the front-end phase of the innovation pipeline. It involves scouting and generating ideas and selecting the right ones as either an innovation project or as a pre-study, in the case of an investment project.

Innovation projects serve to develop new product platforms, new or improved process or application technologies or new catalysts. The projects can have a number of different aims, including:

  • achieving step-change product improvements;
  • reducing the fixed or variable costs of existing products and processes;
  • understanding and resolving specific issues in an existing production process; or
  • assessing opportunities aimed at new business development.

An innovation project therefore applies to any temporary multi-disciplinary effort to create a unique product or service. An important reason to push the boundaries of technology is to ensure a strong intellectual property right (IPR) position and strengthen Borealis’ position as licensor. Innovation Portfolio Management ensures that the right innovation programmes are executed to achieve specific innovation objectives and support venture-based licensing. Portfolio Management also ensures that the allocation of resources is consistent with Borealis’ strategy.

Sustainability is an important part of the project assessment process. All projects must be HSE compliant and must pass a review of their sustainability impact compared with any existing solutions. In 2020, the Portfolio Sustainability Compass was fully implemented and applied to all new innovation projects and product developments. The Portfolio Sustainability Compass is based on an industry sustainability assessment methodology and is used to assess the entire polyolefin portfolio, demonstrating the research contribution to Borealis’ sustainability journey. It considers specific criteria, such as basic requirements in terms of ethics and profitability, chemicals of concern, stakeholder management and comparative environmental performance.

Once the project has achieved certain predefined goals, it is transitioned to the business within Advanced Products, where development and growth of this emerging business continues.

New Business Development

Within Polyolefins, the New Business Development function identifies and assesses new opportunities and develops them accordingly. At present, the Foam & High Melt Strength Polypropylene, Solar and Emerging Markets units are addressed within New Business Development.

To turn innovative ideas into new business, New Business Development first identifies opportunities across all areas of Borealis Polyolefins and beyond. As polyolefins show advantageous Life Cycle Analysis, they are increasingly replacing incumbent materials such as paper, metal, glass, PVC, polystyrene and engineering plastics. Then, after a systematic assessment which evaluates both market demand and unmet market needs, as well as any technical and commercial factors crucial to success, the new business opportunity is cycled into development.

Protecting Intellectual Property

Borealis has an extensive patent portfolio comprising around 7600 granted patents and around 3,000 pending patent applications. In 2020, Borealis filed 114 new priority patent applications, which further contribute to safeguarding Borealis’ proprietary technologies and protecting its licensees. Many patents also protect products and applications.

Risks and Opportunities

Borealis faces both general and business-unit-specific risks in relation to innovation.

In general, the Group must ensure it protects the confidentiality of its innovation projects and that it can attract and develop the talent it needs. There is a diminishing talent pool available, which Borealis looks to address by attracting young people into the industry.

Borealis raises its profile with talented individuals through the Borealis Student Award, which goes to students with the best Diploma, Masters and PhD thesis. The Group also develops its own R&D talent, for example, through its Talent Expert Pool. Through this activity, ten or twelve colleagues are engaged in learning over a period of two years. The Borealis Business Academy also offers an extensive range of training, covering a wide variety of skills.

In Polyolefins, market volatility affects Borealis’ profitability, but the business continues to invest similar amounts in R&D and innovation each year, independent of the market situation. The industry is mature, which means that step-change product development, rather than small improvements, is needed to drive growth. Borealis’ philosophy includes a long-term commitment to innovation and technology.

In Hydrocarbons & Energy, potential legislation regarding CO2 emissions is both a risk and a driver for innovation. The robustness and flexibility of the Borealis’ Innovation Process was tested during 2020. The team created quick and effective responses to rapidly changing market conditions so that Borealis could turn the challenges into opportunities by developing and advancing the products that became important in the new circumstances.

Innovation Success Stories

Polyolefins

Key achievements in 2020 included the following:

  • in Pipe, the PE100 RC Pipe product family was launched, offering performance that is among the best in the market and enabling even wider application of PE pipes in the construction industry;
  • in Advanced Products, new sustainable solutions were developed for markets, including appliances, concentrates and polymer modifiers, healthcare, oil and gas and structured products; and
  • in Circular Economy Solutions, Borealis and MENSHEN launched new packaging closures made of post-consumer recycled resin to enable more sustainable living.

In total, PO commercially launched 27 new products, clearly beating its ’20 in 2020’ target. Achieving these launches in such a challenging year demonstrates that Borealis is a market leader in innovation and is true to its purpose of re-inventing for more sustainable living.

Other notable developments in the year included Borealis winning the Innovation Award 2020/2021, for Austria’s most innovative companies.

Hydrocarbons & Energy

In Hydrocarbons & Energy, feedstock prices are volatile and innovative new sources of feedstock are required. This means that Innovation and R&D focused, among other things, on:

  • benchmarking and implementing a new ethane hydrogenation catalyst, with higher selectivity and yield which is also adapted to light feedstock;
  • evaluating bio-feedstock opportunities for Porvoo (Finland), Stenungsund (Sweden) and Kallo (Belgium), including lignin as feedstock for aromatics production;
  • recommending furnace coil materials, which are leading to increased run-lengths and hence improved efficiency;
  • modelling of a propane/propylene separation unit, for improved operation and yield; and
  • qualification of a new absorbent material for purification of propylene at Porvoo’s cracker unit as a drop-in solution with improved HSE performance and sustainability.

Innovation Highlights

Borealis Supports Austrian Face Mask Initiatives through Production of Meltblown Fabrics on its Unique Pilot Line in Linz

Borealis responded to the COVID-19 crisis with flexibility, collaboration and innovation by announcing that it had started production of meltblown fabrics for face mask applications on its unique pilot line in Linz, Austria. Borealis was able to quickly convert from pure development to smaller scale pilot production and then to regular production of rolls of fine fibre fabrics for face masks. Recently developed by Borealis, a new proprietary polypropylene (PP) meltblown resin HL912BF has boosted filtration properties due to its capability for finer fibres. By exploiting a robust network partners in Austria, Borealis is helping bolster the supply of filtration media to increase face mask production.

Borealis Launches the Bornewables™ Portfolio of Circular, Premium Polyolefins

During 2020, Borealis launched Bornewables™, a new portfolio of circular polyolefin products. Produced with renewable feedstock derived entirely from waste and residue streams, these premium polyolefins offer the same material performance as virgin polyolefins but with a reduced carbon footprint. As an important extension of the existing range of value-adding Borealis polyolefins, the Bornewables may be used for any number of applications in all industries. Using these innovative and more circular products will help enable Borealis’ customers to meet their own sustainability targets while maintaining existing quality standards.

Borealis Polyolefin Innovations Enable the Transition to a Lower-Carbon Energy Future

In 2020, Borealis reached an important milestone in its efforts to facilitate a more sustainable energy future. A high voltage direct current (HVDC) cable compound based on Borealis Borlink™ technology is being used in crosslinked polyethylene (XLPE) power cables that qualified for the tender of the “German corridor projects”. This enormous undertaking will transport renewable energy from wind farms off the north coast of Germany to southern areas of the country. Borealis Borlink is a crucial component in XLPE high-voltage power cables, enabling HVDC technology to transmit electricity over longer distances with minimal losses. In addition, the XLPE material offers the sustainability benefit of being recyclable.

Outlook

Borealis will continue making a significant effort to develop and implement technologies that enable the circularity of polyolefins. It will also continue to strive to be the leading contributor to solving overall environmental issues, in particular climate change and pollution. This includes developing new materials that enable design for recycling and recyclates that are suitable for use in various applications, developing technologies for monomer recycling and the use of bio-feedstock, improving the energy efficiency of the Group’s polymerisation and hydrocarbon plants, and reducing the CO2 footprint of the Group’s manufacturing technologies.

Combined Annual Report 2020 (PDF)

English and German Version available

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Disclaimer

This online report contains only highlights and excerpts from Borealis’ Combined Annual Report 2020. Only the entire report is legally binding and it must be read in full to gain a comprehensive understanding of Borealis’ performance and activities in 2020. A copy of the Combined Annual Report 2020 can be downloaded here.