You probably haven’t put much thought into specialty polymers lately, but they play an extremely important part in our lives. Used everywhere from deep-sea exploration to implantable spinal devices, this group of materials includes plastics, polymers, smart hydrogels, and elastomers. These were also the materials used to build Solar Impulse, the first airplane to fly around the world without a single drop of fuel.

Extremely Innovative

Solvay, the science company producing these unique materials and composite technologies, was one of the very first partners to support Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, the pilots who rewrote aviation history with their round-the-world solar flight in 2016. Vincent Colegrave, head of Connected Research Journey at Solvay, explains the company’s role in the Solar Impulse project.

“Our research and innovation teams have been essential in minimizing the weight of the plane with ultra-strong, ultra-light materials and in maximizing the energy storage of its batteries,” says Colegrave. The aircraft has a 72-meter wingspan but weighs about as much as a jeep, and its horsepower is similar to that of a motorbike. “For the project, we developed over 6,000 parts using 15 high-performance materials. Solar Impulse is our laboratory in the sky.”

Polymers and composite technologies are used by engineers to solve the world’s toughest design challenges in the most demanding industries, such as building and construction, aerospace, healthcare, oil and gas, consumer goods, and electronics. Along with chemicals and specialized solutions for food, mining, and agriculture, these materials are the specialty of Solvay, a company priding itself on technologies that bring benefits to many aspects of daily life.

How Chemistry Is Helping Solve the World’s Toughest Design Challenges

Extremely Sustainable

One of the greatest benefits the company offers is its road map for a sustainable future. The company is unleashing the power of science to deliver clean mobility, lower carbon footprints, and move towards a circular economy.

According to Solvay, a sustainable solution is one that brings higher social and environmental contribution to its customer’s performance while demonstrating a lower environmental impact in its production phase. To achieve this balance, Solvay continuously evaluates the operational and market-induced risks and opportunities related to its environmental impact against the contribution of its products to the planet and society.

The company’s purpose is to bond people, ideas, and elements to reinvent progress. As experts in chemistry, Solvay’s people know that bonding is what happens when elements connect into molecules, shaping the world as we know it. They believe people can bond with other people’s ideas to share common goals and their collective energy, because in a world of dwindling resources and a burgeoning population, it’s not enough to invent something new. Reinventing how we use what we already have is what’s necessary for solving environmental, societal, and economic challenges.

Extremely Collaborative

Solvay has been an SAP customer since the 1980s. One of SAP’s first customers in the Benelux region, the two companies were working together even before SAP had an office in Belgium.

“The evolution of Solvay is based on SAP,” says Frank Delinte, SVP and head of IT Project Service Line at Solvay. “Every line of business uses SAP to transact and grow Solvay’s business. As for the future, we hope SAP will help us achieve our sustainability goal – which is to have full transparency around product circularity, carbon footprint, and sustainable sourcing.”

According to Delinte, the company’s broad sustainability agenda, called Solvay One Planet, requires co-innovation with SAP to stay ahead of the competition. Financial reporting is critical, especially on ESG (economic, social, and governance) topics. Delinte and Colegrave both see digital transformation as a key enabler for sustainability. The company aims to be a role model, and that can only happen using a systematic approach in collaboration with customers and partners that share the same vision. For Solvay, digital transformation is a fundamental part of its growth strategy as well as a transformative capability to attract new talent.

The company is also keen to recognize and retain talent. In a world where people increasingly desire to work for companies that combine doing good with doing business, Solvay offers its employees a number of ways to participate in its sustainability agenda. One recent example was an internal hackathon where Solvay employees developed a game during the lead up to Solvay’s participation at COP26.

The game was simple. Players accumulated kilograms of saved CO2 emissions by pledging to complete actions in their daily lives such as washing their laundry at lower temperatures, biking to work, or avoiding certain high carbon impact products such as bananas. During the 10 days it was available, the game gathered nearly 1,800 players who saved 950 tons of CO2 emissions thanks to their 7,500 registered actions.

Companies like Solvay that invest in digital transformation and put people and sustainability at the core of their business are the ones that end up doing extremely well.