Innovation is fundamental to Borealis’ ability to contribute to the circularity of polyolefins and create a more sustainable way of life. 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. The change in Borealis’ ownership structure and subsequent partnership with OMV has further increased the Group’s focus on the circularity of polyolefins and the availability of renewable hydrocarbons.
Borealis’ global innovation community comprises more than 500 employees and presents one of the largest departments in the organisation. This is in line with Borealis’ position as the technology powerhouse of the industry.
In Polyolefins (PO), innovation focuses on providing solutions to societal challenges, as defined in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Examples include best-in-class materials for producing water and gas pipes, insulation for cables and capacitor film used for transporting renewable electricity and solutions for e-mobility.
This approach to innovation 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 the Group 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.
Borealis’ key innovation sites are its Innovation Headquarters in Linz, Austria, and two Innovation Centres in Stenungsund, Sweden, and Porvoo, Finland. Three polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (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’ Innovation and Technology Department recently went through a substantial reorganisation, creating a true project-driven research and development function that is fully focused on delivering new and advanced products.
The Group’s technology strategy was renewed in 2020 and confirmed in 2021, with a strong focus on the circularity of materials. In particular, it:
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 partnership with OMV. Together, Borealis and OMV are looking to advance the monomer recycling of post-consumer plastics and the availability of renewable hydrocarbons as a feedstock for manufacturing polyolefins. The 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 and carbon-neutral energy sources rather than fossil fuels, to significantly reduce carbon emissions.
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. 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.
The Borealis team uses every opportunity to actively participate in these gatherings, contributing with the highest level of research results and describing the Group’s successes in developing diverse technologies. In 2021, due to the continued travel and gathering restrictions in most countries, many of these meetings were mostly online, with the new practice of hybrid meetings emerging as restrictions gradually eased.
To accelerate Borealis’ progress towards achieving circularity in manufacturing and using polyolefins, and reducing its CO2 footprint, Borealis entered into collaborations with various organisations with complementary competencies in 2021. In particular:
Borealis has cooperated with the Department of Particulate Flow Modelling at the Johannes Kepler University (JKU) in Linz, Austria. The institute’s Professor Pirker received the Christian Doppler Gesellschaft Award for developing an efficient method of modelling particulate flows and processes via computational fluid dynamics. The new method speeds up this type of modelling by a factor of 10,000, enabling real-time applications and the creation of ‘Digital Twins’ for industrial processes. Borealis will pilot the technology for the Borstar Gas Phase Reactor operation in full-scale production.
Borealis is also co-operating with the Christian Doppler Laboratory at the JKU. This offers the potential for essential insights into implementing the circular economy on an industrial scale. These insights will be reflected in innovative products, such as more durable photovoltaic modules or novel energy storage systems for electromobility, and help improve the affordability, performance and availability of renewable energy sources and more efficient energy storage systems.
The Group supported and presented at an online symposium called “Recycling Days 2021 – Circular Plastics 2030”. The symposium covered topics in recycling, ranging from collection and sorting to mechanical recycling and chemical recycling. It gave an overview of the current and future recycling market and showed business models for a circular economy.
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, either as 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. Borealis is a truly market-driven organisation and the main driver for establishing an innovation project is an unsatisfied market need that requires new products and/or technologies to deliver the products.
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.
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.
Borealis has an extensive patent portfolio, comprising around 8,300 granted patents and around 2,900 pending patent applications. In 2021, Borealis filed 133 new priority patent applications, a record amount of applications filed in the history of Borealis. With this, the company further contributes to safeguarding Borealis’ proprietary technologies and protecting its licensees. Many patents also protect products and applications.
Borealis faces both general and business-unit-specific risks in relation to innovation.
In general, the Group must ensure that 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 the 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 2021. 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.
In the Polyolefins business unit, key achievements in 2021 included:
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:
During 2021, Borealis launched six new grades produced with renewable feedstock material, as part of the Bornewables portfolio. Bornewables offer product properties equal to fossil-based product. This allows our partners to have a quick and easy transition from fossil-based polypropylene to a renewable feedstock-based polypropylene.
Borealis RJ908MO offers a unique combination of flow, transparency and impact for large articles demanding products with excellent flow ability. The main market will be home and kitchenware, such as large storage boxes, racks and under-the-bed boxes. Borealis RJ908MO will also be used in non-food thin-wall packaging items such as media boxes or DIY articles. Customers benefit from ease of injection and they are also able to decrease their injection temperatures by a minimum of 20°C, helping to reduce energy consumption and corresponding CO2 emissions.
Borealis started up a heat recovery unit based on the revolutionary Qpinch technology at the plant in Antwerp. The technology makes it possible to transform low-temperature waste heat into useful heat at higher temperature. The unique Qpinch technology mimics the natural chemical reactions that take place in the human body in the so-called ATP/ADP cycle (in which ATP refers to adenosine triphosphate, and ADP to adenosine diphosphate).
Borealis, in partnership with OMV, 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 recyclability 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.