Innovation is fundamental to Borealis’ ability to achieve its purpose of Re-inventing Essentials for Sustainable Living. The Group is committed to developing technologies that will provide solutions to the most critical issues facing society, including climate change, pollution and increased energy costs. Together with OMV Group, Borealis leads the industry in the transformation toward the circular economy with zero CO2 emissions. The strategies of both Groups confirm their determination to achieve this transformation, supported by the Borealis technology strategy. Specifically, Polyolefins looks to develop new high-performing materials, Hydrocarbons & Energy is identifying innovative approaches to using new renewable feedstock, and Circular Economy Solutions (CES) is developing technologies to use waste plastic as a crucial resource.
As the technology powerhouse for the Group, Borealis operates a global innovation community that employs more than 500 people in three Innovation Centres in Linz (Austria), Porvoo (Finland) and Stenungsund (Sweden). The Innovation and Technology department is led by the Vice President of Innovation and Technology, and is part of the Polyolefins organisation, under the leadership of the Executive Vice President Polyolefins, Innovation & Technology and Circular Economy Solutions, who is a member of the Executive Board.
Most innovation projects are proposed by the Marketing or Technology Transfer organisations. Following opportunity-driven innovation principles, topics supported by business cases are presented to a decision-making forum called the Innovation Portfolio Table, which consists of all relevant stakeholders, such as the Head of Polyolefins, Heads of Sales and Marketing, and the Head of Innovation. The Portfolio Table group decides whether to launch, stop or extend the innovation projects on the basis of their success, potential, relevance to the strategy and sustainability, and resource availability. Projects are managed by a group of professional project managers and the project teams consist of researchers, engineers and marketing specialists.
Borealis maintains competences that are needed to implement its innovation strategy in-house or gains access to them through the open innovation collaborations with other centres of competence. Among other facilities essential for successful innovation, the Borealis Innotech operates a Borstar polyethylene (PE) pilot plant in Porvoo, and two Borstar polypropylene (PP) pilot plants, one in Porvoo and one in Schwechat, as well as a catalyst pilot plant in Porvoo.
The Group’s technology strategy is aligned with the new Borealis and OMV Group Strategy launched in early 2022. In particular, it puts sustainability even more firmly at the centre of Borealis’ approach to innovation, focusing on:
The aim of the strategy is to create value through innovation, by 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 tailored customer service level. Ultimately, Borealis Innovation aims to address the challenges of society with smarter, more sustainable solutions for the future.
Borealis’ Hydrocarbons & Energy business is following Borealis’ open innovation strategy in its partnership with OMV Group. Together, Borealis and OMV are looking to advance the monomer recycling of post-consumer plastics and the availability of renewable hydrocarbons as a more sustainable 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, which is developing a new furnace concept that will use renewable and carbon-neutral energy sources rather than fossil fuels, to significantly reduce carbon emissions. Furthermore, the innovation project portfolio is addressing the dramatic increase in energy prices and the growing necessity for a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
The importance of Borealis’ innovation strategy was confirmed by market developments and product launches in 2022.
In addition to its internal collaborations, Borealis undertakes a wide range of engagement with relevant stakeholders. It is a member of the Dutch Polymer Institute, 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 and participates in a number of its issue groups.
Borealis’ Innovation experts use 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.
The Borealis innovation process comprises three main phases: idea creation, innovation project implementation 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. In 2022, Borealis continued its Idea Campaigns, which invite all employees to contribute creative ideas to solve particular problems. The response to these calls is typically very strong and the selected ideas now being implemented are expected to deliver important progress.
Innovation projects serve to develop new product platforms, new or improved process or application technologies, or new catalysts. Borealis is a 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.
Innovation project portfolio management provides structure and decision-making, to ensure the right innovation programmes are executed to achieve specific objectives and support venture-based licensing. The portfolio of innovation projects and activities is managed by a separate professional group, which is instrumental in facilitating project approval, execution and finalisation, and ensuring that the allocation of resources is consistent with Borealis’ strategy. Once a project has achieved certain predefined goals, it is transitioned to the business within Advanced Products, where development and growth of this emerging business continues.
An important requirement when pushing the boundaries of technology is to ensure a strong intellectual property right position and strengthen Borealis’ position as a licensor. Many patents also protect products and applications.
Borealis has an extensive patent portfolio, comprising around 8,500 granted patents and around 3,000 pending patent applications. In 2022, Borealis filed 128 new priority patent applications.
The Group must ensure 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.
To accelerate progress towards circularity in manufacturing and using polyolefins, while reducing its CO2 footprint, Borealis entered into collaborations with various organisations with complementary competencies in 2022. In particular:
Borealis commercially launched 10 new PO product innovations in 2022 (excluding modifications on grades only), demonstrating its innovation market leadership and delivering on its Company purpose of re-inventing essentials for sustainable living.
Borealis announced the launch of the first breakthrough polypropylene (PP) grades based on the ground-breaking Borstar Nextension Technology, which offers a step change in performance for tailor-made PP that delivers superior properties for cast and blown film. Two BorPure™ film grades that set new standards for PP food packaging are designed for eco-efficiency and recyclability. The nonwoven grade Borealis HG485FB also offers superior performance characteristics. All Borstar Nextension grades can be made using feedstock from the Bornewables and Borcycle™ C portfolios of circular polyolefins. By leveraging its polymers technology expertise, Borealis is offering its partners and customers an ever-larger number of solutions providing superior performance, paired with enhanced circularity and material efficiency.
Borealis launched three products based on its Borcycle M technology. The Group has successfully increased the recyclate content while maintaining or improving the product properties, particularly for five Borcycle M automotive product launches at K-Fair, where PCR content as high as 68% has been reached.
During 2022, Borealis launched seventeen Bornewable products produced with renewable feedstock, as part of the Bornewables portfolio. Bornewables offers product properties equal to fossil-based product, allowing Borealis’ partners to quickly and easily transition from fossil-based polypropylene to a renewable feedstock-based polypropylene.
Borealis has strengthened its EverMinds™ circular product offering with Borvida, a range of sustainable base chemicals. The Borvida portfolio will offer base chemicals or cracker products (such as ethylene, propylene, butene and phenol) with ISCC Plus-certified sustainable content from Borealis’ sites in Finland, Sweden and Belgium. The portfolio will initially comprise Borvida B, from non-food waste biomass, and Borvida C, from chemically-recycled waste. In the future, the range will evolve to include Borvida A, sourced from atmospheric carbon capture. Borvida is complementary to, and is the building block of, Bornewables, Borealis’ portfolio of polyolefins based on renewably-sourced second generation feedstocks, and Borcycle, which offers circular polyolefins produced from mechanically- and chemically-recycled plastic waste.
The basis of the Borvida portfolio is Mass Balance, the Chain of Custody model that enables sustainable content to be tracked, traced, and verified through the entire value chain, offering sustainability-assured products from feedstock to end product. Using this model, circular alternatives can be offered in a cost-effective and environmentally-conscious way, which can be scaled up quickly without compromising on quality or efficiency.
In Hydrocarbons & Energy, feedstock prices are volatile and innovative new sources of feedstock are required. In 2022, Innovation and R&D focused, among other things, on the use of pyrolysis oil made from plastic waste as a feedstock for the Group’s crackers. During the year, Borealis selected the chemical recycling process technologies for producing and upgrading pyrolysis oil, to feed the steam cracker furnaces at its Stenungsund (Sweden) location.
The Group has also begun utilising pyrolysis oil from its co-operation with Renasci as direct cracker feed in the Porvoo operations. Borealis received the first delivery of this chemically recycled feedstock in June 2022. The pyrolysis oil is blended with naphtha before use and Borealis demonstrated its commitment to innovation by being one of the first organisations to crack pyrolysis oil directly with naphtha in a steam cracker. Borealis has constructed an ISO container unloading station at Porvoo, to improve the logistics for delivering pyrolysis oil. In addition, the Group has continued to establish the analytical setup and criteria for qualifying pyrolysis oil made from plastic waste.
Hydrocarbon & Energy’s other innovation projects include qualifying a new dehydrogenation catalyst, which will be loaded during the plant turnaround in 2023. The aim is to increase production, with a better performing and more robust catalyst. Borealis has also further improved the hydrogenation operation in the cracker downstream area, by benchmarking C3 hydrogenation catalysts.
Microplastics are plastic particles of less than 5 millimetres in diameter. They can be found in the environment, in the food and water we consume, and even in the human body. Borealis takes part in research programmes that study the sources of microplastics and their potential impact.
Borealis’ is supporting the EU-funded CORNET (Collective Research Network) project “microplastics@food”, run by a consortium led by the Food Cluster of Lower Austria and involving several high-level academic partners. The Group will also join the follow-up “microplastic@complexFOOD” project, starting in 2023.
Borealis provided the microplastics@food project with PE- and PP-based soft drink closures and corresponding pellet samples, for testing and research. So far, the findings have shown only a very limited amount of multi-polymer microparticles on freshly produced PE screw caps, which most likely resulted from aerial deposition in the production process. The project has also developed harmonised and reliable detection methods for microplastics, which work well in clear liquids and solutions and will be extended to more complex foodstuffs.
Borealis collaborated with TU Vienna to research secondary microplastics formation from polypropylene film, with the results published in the prestigious journal “Polymer Degradation and Stability”. The work showed that the breakup of larger particles into microplastics is clearly related to chemical degradation, resulting from UV irradiation, and this may be the first stage of a purely abiotic degradation pathway. The Group also supported another project studying environmental exposure and degradation of “artificial litter”, by providing well-characterised samples.
The “Brigid” project financed by Plastics Europe is studying the biological effects of microplastics on animals and humans, and is being conducted by a consortium of independent scientific partners coordinated by TNO, a Dutch research institute. This multi-million euro project will run until 2026 and cover different levels of biological interaction, from the cell level to the full organism. In line with other polymer producers, Borealis is supplying polymer samples and expertise to the project, the results of which are intended for public sharing.
The war in Ukraine dramatically increased energy prices in 2022. Together with the ever-more urgent need to tackle climate change, this calls for the rapid development of technologies that enable increased use of renewable and available energy, renewable and available feedstock for polyolefin manufacturing and a rapid reduction in CO2 emissions. Borealis will continue to intensify its efforts to contribute to this development.
In addition, in 2023 Borealis will work on: