Ernest Solvay, “From Science we will derive the progress of mankind”: Bijal Mathkar, R&I Director, Solvay Research and Innovation Center India

Solvay’s Research & Innovation Centre, Vadodara is a site with worldwide impact in areas of organic & polymer sciences. It is now significantly focusing on renewable materials and sustainable chemistry via various ongoing projects. Special attention is being paid to digitization for increasing efficiency of set-up & processes

  • June 29, 2023

In 2023, Solvay is celebrating 160 years of its existence. Please list some of the key achievements, which have helped Solvay make a difference in the world of chemicals?

A young Belgian named Ernest Solvay made a technological breakthrough, creating a more environmentally friendly ammonia-soda ash process, which changed the way glass was made. This allowed many industrial revolutions to happen. With this innovation, Ernest set up a company called Solvay, which was created with science, ingenuity, and globalization. This magical combination has had a positive role in the progress of humanity. That was 1863. Today, we are the 7th generation of builders of this extraordinary human adventure. We received this heritage as a gift, with the duty to build on our legacy and to pass it on to generations to come.

Ernest believed that science would derive the progress of humanity. He brought the brightest scientific minds together and these meetings laid the foundation of quantum physics. The Solvay conferences laid the foundation for future quantum physics. In addition, the Solvay Institutes further advanced research in Psychology and Social Sciences. He believed in social caring and put a strong emphasis on the well-being of employees.

The company survived two world wars, the Great Depression, and the financial crisis. The company has been at the heart of four industrial revolutions and emerged stronger from the Covid pandemic in a multipolar world, continuing to demonstrate more than ever that we are essential.

In the 19th century, Solvay enabled populations to access light, hygiene, and cleanliness. Later, the company explored opportunities in life sciences, solving health problems for humans and animals. The company multiplied solutions for a cleaner mobility, safer air, drinkable water, smart connectivity, and beauty. More recently, the company enabled solar impulse to tour the world without a single drop of fuel. These are examples of how our chemistry is part of the solution to save our planet for generations to come.

Our chemistry is the cornerstone of a sustainable future: it enables EV batteries, green hydrogen, circular materials, and bio-based solutions. Over the past four years, the company continues caring through The Solvay Solidarity Fund, which donated more than 9 million euros to employees, families, and communities facing hardship. The company continues raising the bar and delivering on its growth strategy. We are proud of our Solvay One Planet achievements and we continue driving the Solvay One Dignity towards more inclusion, equity at the service of diversity.

As a global leader in materials, chemicals, and solutions, Solvay brings advancements in planes, cars, batteries, smart and medical devices, and water and air treatment, to solve critical industrial, social and environmental challenges. How is Solvay contributing to the innovative solutions thereby helping a safer, cleaner, and sustainable future?

At Solvay, we believe that solutions to major humanity challenges will be led by scientific breakthroughs, while taking care of our legacies. Today, we put our expertise at the service of some of the most pressing issues of our planet. Through Solvay One Planet, we focus on areas where our innovation and sustainable solutions can have the biggest positive impact, directly and indirectly, in line with the ambition and requirements of the UN Sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Underpinned by our Purpose and G.R.O.W. strategy, our sustainability agenda will be brought to life by a set of clearly defined programs and actions, around measured ten key goals and enabled through a set of concrete actions and projects.

The journey is long, but our commitment remains stronger than ever. Like all industries, we are part of the problem, but we can also be part of the solution, by putting our activities at the service of sustainability and circularity. In fact, despite the major disruptions caused by Covid-19, we increased our ambitions in 2020, raising the bar in terms of our climate and resources objectives, while continuing to promote a better life for all Solvay employees.

All these actions are the consequence of the reinforcement of our Solvay One Planet goals. By 2030, we will work to fight climate change by phasing out coal-based energy and cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 26%; we will reduce resource consumption by generating 65% of our revenue from sustainable solutions and more than doubling our circular sales; lastly, we will continue to improve quality of life by aiming for zero accidents and accelerating inclusion and diversity in our workforce.

Additionally, Solvay is hard at work building a circular ecosystem, reaching out to our partners all along the value chain in order to use more waste as a raw material, boost recycling, and promote the switch to biomass energy.

Some of the key achievements of RIC Vadodara center in FY 2022-23?

R&I center Vadodara was inaugurated in 2012 and recently completed 10 years in India. In the past decade, the center has been recognized for its high standards of safety culture by both Solvay and external agencies. Recently, the center received the British Safety Council Award distinctions for its safety performance. “Safety KPIs are important to us. Yet what is utmost rewarding is our employees go home safe & unhurt back to their families at the end of each working day” says Ankit Thakar, Site HSE manager. Ankit recently received ‘Passion for Performance’ award from the CEO’s office as a part of global recognition program in Solvay.

In the past three years, we have invested significantly in infrastructure & people, which strengthens the center’s position as a worldwide research & innovation hub. The R&I focus is increasing in the field of sustainable chemistry & digital ways of working.

In addition to that we focus on science that creates value in society e.g.: major contribution in development of products in the field of medical – dialysis membranes, medical implants, automotive & light weighting, home & personal care markets, agricultural markets, etc.

"I am a new member to the Solvay Family, joined only last year. I feel proud to work for Solvay as part of the HPC lab. It offers challenging and exciting opportunity to work on futuristic & innovative global home & personal care solutions, which are caring not just for people but also for the planet. Solvay's unique work culture focused on employee well-being and innovation leadership along with safety-first attitude sets it class apart in the industry.  The well-equipped formulation research labs are supported with best in class in-house analytical facilities to expedite the innovation process. Solvay's sprawling Research & innovation center at Vadodara with world class research infrastructure and highly diverse talent pool with experienced scientists from Indian and Global prestigious institutions offers one of the best environment to cross fertilize ideas and bring path breaking innovations to life." quotes Vishal Javia, Technical Leader (Formulations) Home & Personal Care market. 

We also provide technical support to local manufacturing plants, support development of the Indian market by creating products adapted to this market.

To enhance Solvay’s R&I innovation ecosystem, the company is joining hands with academia and partners in India. How are you leveraging this initiative in India?

Solvay R&I has reputation & connections with academia and going forward is planning to leverage it for a better future via open innovation in domains of sustainable growth. Taking the cue from DST’s focus on increased collaboration between industry and academia, we have been in touch with many institutions in the field of Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, and Data Sciences etc. for opportunities of co-creation. We are involved in different activities like: Internships, CSR, PhD sponsorship, assignment based projects, teaching/talks on industrial safety, chemistry curriculum, and talks & interactions by eminent professors from academia; and more.

How is RIC Vadodara Centre planning to leverage more than €10 bn growth opportunity in Battery Materials; Thermoplastic Composites; Green Hydrogen; and Renewable Materials and technology?

R&I Vadodara Centre is matching the pace of growth with Solvay. Work is going on in some areas of battery materials supporting clean mobility. The center is significantly focusing on renewable materials and sustainable chemistry via various ongoing projects. 

Are you planning to ramp up work force in RIC Vadodara Centre? If yes, areas where you are planning to recruit and number of people you want to recruit in the next two years?

R&I Vadodara is focused on areas of organic chemistry, polymers, and material sciences. We do have plans to ramp up our work force over the next few years. We do not hire in bulk but it is as per project requirements. We are open to profiles with background in above segments with sustainability and innovation mindset.

Solvay is a materials company with very high standards in safety and ethics. The company takes care of its employees by providing a safe & employee friendly work environment. R&I center is recognized with the employee's families & local community as a great place to work. In 2021, Solvay received an award from the Economics Times as Best Place to Work for Women owing to our DE&I policies. 

When is Solvay planning to achieve Net Carbon Zero and steps taken by RIC Vadodara Centre?

Solvay is planning to achieve Net Carbon Zero by 2050 (except for its Soda ash business). Solar plant at the RIC Vadodara Centre provides upto 25% of total site energy. Going forward, we are moving towards zero waste and moving away from single use materials. R&I projects have sustainability scores as a part of the approval process. In addition to that, we are working in-line with Solvay’s One Planet Goals (published) for sustainable growth.

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