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INTERVIEW - Ilham Kadri, CEO, Solvay Group

News International-French

2 Mar 2020

In January, Solvay unveiled its Group purpose: Solvay exists to bond people, ideas and elements to reinvent progress – and its new tagline: “progress beyond” – evoking its pathway towards the future. JEC Composites Magazine wanted to know more about it, and decided to interview Solvay CEO, Ilham Kadri.

Ilham Kadri, CEO of Solvay Group, Brussels, Belgium (©Solvay/E.Crooÿ)
JEC Composites Magazine: You have just unveiled the new Group purpose which aims to reinvent progress. How do you think this will translate into your various activities and more particularly in terms of composite materials ?
Ilham Kadri: More specifically our purpose states that we are "bonding" to reinvent progress. Bonding is an idea that has always been at the heart of the Solvay spirit. Our scientists and chemists bond elements into molecules; we blend polymers and materials to serve our customers. This purpose statement is inspired by our past - as our founder Ernest Solvay often referred to scientific progress and is intensely focused on the future, because we need to reinvent progress to deliver new solutions to serve the world and surprise our clients.
We want to create sustainable shared value for all.
Composite materials totally fit in this area. Our composites play a major role in lightweighting - where the shift from metal to polymers and composites improve fuel efficiency in aircrafts and cars - thereby playing a major role in a more sustainable mobility. We also continue to reinvent progress through our Thermoplastic Composites platform and our recent development in new markets.

JEC Composites Magazine: At the end of 2019, you presented the GROW strategy which aims to unleash the full potential of Solvay. Do you have goals in the area of composite materials?
Ilham Kadri: It’s actually an acronym - G.R.O.W. The G stands for Growth in our materials business and this segment comprises our high performance specialty polymers, our composites businesses and our two platforms (Thermoplastic Composites and Batteries). Our ambition is clear - accelerate growth and extend our leadership position in Advanced Materials businesses.

JEC Composites Magazine: You have the objective to fulfill the gap between basic research and industrial research. Do you already have concrete examples of this wish in the field of composite or related materials?
Ilham Kadri: In our new strategy plan, we announced we would reallocate funds towards our Growth segment, upping the R&I investment in Materials (which includes our Composites business) from ~35% of total R&I Group spend to >50% in the coming years.
In 2019, we created a common platform with dedicated teams to leverage our expertise and accelerate innovation in thermoplastics composites.
Solvay expanded its aerospace thermoplastic composites capacity in the U.S. to meet strong demand growth from aerospace customers. Additionally, Solvay opened two innovation centers dedicated to thermoplastic composites in the United States and Europe, reinforcing its research and innovation capabilities and engagement with customers. The centers are complementary and will speed up the development of these high-performance materials. Solvay also joined the ThermoPlastic Composites Research Center, the world-leading research, development and innovation center for TPC focused on enabling the use of this technology in large volume applications and on eliminating costs and technological barriers towards its widespread adoption.

Solvay bonds people, ideas and elements to reinvent progress

The newly-defined purpose sets the future for Solvay: bonding people, ideas and elements to reinvent progress

JEC Composites Magazine: Last year, you collaborated with Stajvelo to develop a composite electric bike. Do you have other projects of this nature?
Ilham Kadri: Many! Stajvelo makes me think of other projects exploring new alleys, such as the Flexible Lightweight Architecture for Volume Applications (FLAVA) consortium. We partnered with  Penso, a British company specialized in composite parts manufacturer, and Mercedes Benz UK and were recently able to demonstrate that composite intensive vehicles like delivery vans could be produced industrially.

Discover the Stajvelo, the first all-polymer e-Bike with long-fiber thermoplastic material:
Solvay worked hand-in-hand with a Monaco-based company to develop a cutting-edge electric bike made entirely of plastic, and to introduce one of its newest high performance polymers in the process. The first prototype was created in 2018, and discussions began with Solvay as the supplier of the high performance polymer that was required to build such a bike.

Stajvelo, the first all-polymer e-Bike with long-fiber thermoplastic material
The material in question is the latest in Solvay’s line of long fiber thermoplastic (LFT) compounds. LFT compounds provide a unique combination of stiffness, impact strength and dynamic fatigue performance. LFT can be injection molded, allowing to create a designer bike that can be both produced in Europe and recycled, at the difference of carbon fiber which is non-recyclable.

Stajvelo began the production of its RV01 model in April 2019: 15 bikes are manufactured per week in the company’s workshop in Monaco, fully equipped for security (with built-in lights and a geolocation device in case of theft) and maximum comfort – and the next model is in the works. Sales are conducted exclusively online for the time being. So if you fancy being one of the first people to ride around on the world’s first all-plastic e-bike, you know what to do!

JEC Composites Magazine: Is the subject of new mobilities a challenge or does it represent a growth potential for Solvay in general, and your composite activity in particular?
Ilham Kadri: Absolutely. More specifically, we see more sustainable mobility - through lightweighting - as one of the macrotrends driving our G.R.O.W.  strategy. It is an area where we propose solutions and technologies for the automotive and aerospace sectors, allowing the improvement of engine efficiency, downsizing and metal replacement. We’re also offering solutions for new mobilities in the sense that we make it simpler for our customers to implement lightweighting technologies in their own products, with materials that are easier to work with, allowing more flexible designs and faster production processes, while still ticking all the boxes in terms of mechanical properties and resistance.    

JEC Composites Magazine: More generally, what is your feeling on the development of the composites market ?
Ilham Kadri: It’s an exciting market. The share of composites per aircraft has been growing in the past years, from 10% to 50% and the number of aircraft being built per month is constantly increasing. So far only a small percentage of the world population has flown and people want to travel more and the OEMs are working on next generation composite intensive aircraft designs. Aircraft industry forecasts show that over 35,000 new aircraft will be required by the world’s airlines before 2040. That’s almost 2,000 aircraft every year.
Other markets are growing too: the offshore deep sea oil and gas market needs to find more cost effective and flexible ways for the exploitation and have found in carbon fiber thermoplastic composites the perfect materials for both corrosion resistance and performance. The automotive market still sees carbon fiber composites as a key lever to reduce the weight of their fleet and as the cost-performance ratio evolves we will see a stronger adoption of composites by that market.

Meet Solvay teams and discover their latest innovations at JEC World 2020, Hall 5, Booth M41.

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