Co-production partners are being lined up in Europe, North America, India and China, although no formal deals have yet been done. ‘We will bring them on one step at a time,’ he said. ‘Our focus is on demo and small-scale facilities to meet the end market demand we are working on.’
Attention is now being focused on customers, to build a pull from the end market, Wiggins said; the difficulty is that polyol producers won’t move until their customers are asking for the product. ‘We are working with the end market – the brands – to generate demand, and then meet it through the supply chain,’ Wiggins said. ‘Once we have built up that demand, we will sell the co-production of early-stage polyols back to the producers. We are, effectively, working to de-risk it.’
Unsurprisingly, he said, the brands who are driving demand are those with the highest sustainability goals, particularly those with the aim of reaching net zero by 2030. ‘There is a clear hierarchy of industries that want to do this,’ he said. At the forefront are the textile and apparel sectors, where consumers are looking for greener solutions in the fibres and synthetic leather coatings. ‘Interestingly, the insulation market is another key early adopter.’
The amount of carbon dioxide that can be incorporated into the polymer backbone is going to determine which forms of PU are the polyols are best suited to. ‘We have driven down the cost of the catalyst, so all applications could be served economically – even the big commodity flex foams are open to us in terms of an economic value proposition,’ he said. In the long run, he believes there is great potential in the foam sector, with the PU being 60–70% polyol and therefore big environmental potential.
As the big-volume applications like flex foam will have very large reactors that would need to be converted, Wiggins believes that the starting point will be specialty grades in smaller reactors, with where there is less risk from a producer perspective. Once this has been successful, then he would hope to build out into the bigger reactors.
The past shift to DMC catalyst technology revolutionised the PU industry, he said, by shortening batch times and effectively doubling production. ‘Our catalyst, effectively, does the same,’ he said. ‘The batch times for CO2-containing polyols are a fraction of the conventional KOH process. As soon as the market pull is there, we believe we will be pushing against an open door when it comes to polyols producers benefiting from that economic uplift.’
The catalyst has been validated, and now efforts revolve around supply chain and external producers to ensure it can be manufactured reliably, and at the right cost. ‘When we eventually get into the market, the next focus will be on the recycling loop for the catalyst, so we can take it back and recycle it, which will bring costs down further,’ Wiggins said.
‘We are focused on as many proof points as we can – as many different application and products as we can. The broader the range of adoption, the quicker we can show that it works and build some traction. We have to get past the ambition and potential of the business, and start to deliver. All good ideas are only good at the right time, and I think the timing is now absolutely right for this now.’