PPCJ spoke to Sandrine Garnier Ph.D., a recently appointed Director of The ChemQuest Group, about her plans for her new role and her views on the biggest trends and challenges facing the coatings industry at the moment.

Q: A lot of your background is in adhesives. Will this be a particular area of focus for you?

A: Thermosetting adhesives were the topic of my Ph.D. thesis and where I started my professional career working as a development chemist at Bostik. I subsequently expanded into polymer emulsions and specialty chemicals for markets such as nonwovens, floor care, personal care, tape and adhesives, construction, industrial coatings, tire cord, and textiles at OMNOVA Solutions (now part of Synthomer). More recently, I worked at Addmaster (now part of Polygiene) with functional additives such as antimicrobials, odour neutralisers and absorbers, product verification, and brand protection taggants that are added into plastics, rubbers, coatings, textiles, and paper.

Over the past 20+ years, I have had the privilege to work with a wide range of industries and deliver speciality chemicals and materials solutions to many different end-use applications. I am hoping to draw on this versatile background and these enriching experiences as I focus on the ChemQuest Business Strategy & Transformation and M&A Advisory Services pillars to help clients drive growth, profit, and innovation.

A: Sustainability is what excites me the most because it comes in so many different forms and plays a role at all levels of the chemical industry. It’s about the whole value chain, from extracting and sourcing natural, renewable ingredients; transforming and producing chemicals through sustainable processes; safely and sustainably storing and transporting chemicals; and all the way through allowing for sustainable end products to be made, used, re-used, and ultimately recycled at the end of their life.

Sustainability is not just looking at bio-based materials—it’s much more than that. Sustainability involves optimizing processes to reduce water and energy consumption while also selecting the right materials (e.g., lighter ones for lower fuel consumption in transport application or more effective materials for enhanced insulation or heat transfer, depending on the application). Sustainability is a way of life.

Q: What do you see as being the biggest challenge/s currently facing the coatings and chemicals industries?

A: One of the maybe less spoken about challenges of the coatings and chemicals industries is how to retain and transfer know-how and specialist expertise. Fewer young people decide to study science-based topics, and many experienced scientists who have dedicated their entire lives to advancing the industry are coming to retirement age. How do we bridge that gap and ensure a smooth transition?

First, I believe there is work to be done in promoting the coatings and chemicals industries in schools and universities. So little is known by young people about the widely diverse career opportunities within these sectors. Thinking back to my school days, applied industrial chemistry is so much more creative and stimulating than textbook chemistry lessons.

Second, we must work to alter the negative perception of the chemical sector as an industry that is polluting the planet and causing global warming. There is a need to communicate how much chemistry surrounds us in our everyday life, how life would be very different without chemistry. The coatings and chemicals industries are working at the forefront of innovative, sustainable solutions that will impact everyday life for years to come. The challenge is how to showcase and communicate these inspiring success stories to a wider audience outside our industry.

Ever-changing regulatory frameworks are another challenge. In addition, it is important to understand the associated complexity of navigating through networks of national vs. international standards and laws, as well as the intricacy and financial investment needed for registering new and even existing chemicals and/or active substances.

In my career, I have witnessed that regulations can drive innovations toward greener, more sustainable technologies. However, I have also seen the opposite—where the requirements to achieve regulatory compliance are so high and costly that it kills novel concepts and technologies.

Q: How do you think being based in Europe will benefit ChemQuest and/or its clients?

A: From an early age, I was brought up in an international environment (French and Dutch family), where cultures were mixed and multiple languages were spoken. This inspired me to explore the world, and I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to conduct some of my Ph.D. research work in South Africa and Hungary.

I then moved to the United Kingdom for my first job, where I am still based today. I have been lucky to travel around the globe meeting new suppliers, visiting clients, and supporting and training distributors. I look to apply the learnings from my international and multi-cultural career to my new role at ChemQuest, and to strengthen the growing presence of ChemQuest in Europe.

To learn more, contact Sandrine at sgarnier@chemquest.com.

Read in PPCJ.