While sustainability initiatives are increasingly popular and important for companies around the world, long-term commercial success relies on deriving economic as well as environmental value from new approaches. To deliver on commitments to increased or total adoption of sustainable materials in the coming decades, major corporations will be a driving force for innovative material science and scalable sustainability practices. In a new report, the team at Lux Research, a leading provider of tech-enabled research and advisory services about technology innovation, identifies three key areas where materials innovation can deliver both the economic and environmental upsides needed for successfully commercializing sustainable products.
The report, "Key Strategies for Valorizing Sustainable Materials Innovation," delves into the environmental sustainability, economic value, and key opportunities for the three most promising trends in sustainable materials innovation: waste feedstock, performance as sustainability, and digital enablement. The report also includes data from the Lux Tech Signal that tracks how innovation interest changes over time.
"Sustainability is primarily used as a marketing tool and generally has little impact on a company’s long-term strategy," said Gihan Hewage, Analyst at Lux Research and author of the report. "However, companies that recognize the coming economic upside of sustainable materials strategies and work to integrate innovative approaches sooner will have first-mover advantage, making them better positioned for a future in which such technologies augment the value propositions of more and more products. To best accomplish this, companies should consider the full product lifecycle to identify new opportunities for integrating key materials, and look to form strategic partnerships across the value chain."
The Lux Take on top sustainable materials innovation trends
The Lux team analyzes each of the three top innovation opportunities and identifies areas ripe for commercial scale:
Waste feedstocks - Innovations here have the potential to reduce waste while providing a low-cost feedstock. Key opportunities lie in next-generation and gaseous feedstocks, including waste food crops or non-food crops (cellulosic biomass), to provide renewable sources that do not compete with food as well as advanced recycling or “upcycling” technologies that convert waste input – including plastics, textiles, and carbon fibers – to a high-quality output.
Performance as sustainability - This area addresses materials that improve the performance of products to reduce material consumption as well as improve efficiency. Breakthrough opportunities include high- performance materials that reduce material usage and weight, slashing material and shipping costs, boosting fuel efficiency and reducing CO2 emissions, as well as selective application of functional materials into products to improve operational efficiency or increase lifespan.
Digital enablement - This growth category encompasses digital tools that optimize part design, increase production efficiency, and allow for new manufacturing workflows. Advancements are driven by tools that allow designers to produce material-efficient parts, accelerate the design process, and leverage machine learning and data from every part of a product’s lifespan to optimize new part design. The results enable faster part design and development, reduced resource needs, and offer the opportunity to identify potential problems in the part prior to manufacturing. These tools can also lead to manufacturing efficiencies such as locally sourcing raw materials, producing products on demand, distributed manufacturing and using small-volume or “right-sized” facilities, all of which reduce transportation costs and enable more efficient use of resources with less wasted capacity compared to centralized factories.
In addition to spelling out the opportunities within these three key areas and scoring them with an objective and consistent measure of how much innovation is happening in each, the report offers examples of early successes and guidance for adopting and scaling material innovations that deliver on the economic as well as environmental front.
For more details, download the executive summary.