Co-Innovation of Materials, Standards, and Markets: BASF’s Development of Ecoflex
Innovation is like motherhood and apple pie—everyone is for it. Americans pride themselves on being innovators and entrepreneurs. We champion original thought. Yet, how does the innovation process actually take place? How are innovations successfully brought to market? CHF’s Center for Contemporary History and Policy has been examining the subject through its Studies in Materials Innovation project.
In his recently completed white paper, “Co-Innovation of Materials, Standards, and Markets,” Arthur Daemmrich examines the commercialization by BASF of a new biodegradable polymer meant to address the issue of plastic bags in landfills. In imagining how this material was developed, our mental image is that of a chemist at the bench building new molecules until she or he finds one with the right properties. In this case, that turned out to be the easiest piece of the innovation-commercialization process. More difficult were establishing standards, gaining acceptance by users, and obtaining approvals by regulators. For example, what does “biodegradable” mean if we are to establish an actual standard? What test can be done quickly that correlates with natural processes that occur over months or years? BASF found it had to develop a special team that worked closely with academic scientists and standards agencies to resolve these issues.
In the end, the more novel a new material, the more likely that product standards, health and safety regulations, and consumer markets will be underdeveloped or absent. Innovation is just the beginning. You can read more on our Web site as well as other papers in the series.