Javier Brañas, President of the Plataforma Tecnológica Española de Química Sostenible SusChem-España (Spanish Technological Platform for Sustainable Chemistry)
Tell us about the SusChem Spain platform, a member of SusChem Europe. How did the idea to create the platform arise?
Even though the Platform itself was created 10 years ago, the Federación Empresarial de la Industria Química Española (FEIQUE; Business Federation of the Spanish Chemical Industry) had already been working on the idea to create a network that brought together all agents involved in the national Science and Technology system in the chemistry sector. Back then, in 2004, European Technology Platforms arised; SusChem Europe, in particular, which was led by the European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC), was working to define its mid- and long-term strategy for research and development. The project could not have come at a better time for us: it was completely aligned with the idea FEIQUE was working on. This was how the Spanish Platform was created.
Who belongs to SusChem?
Technology platforms are public-private structures -led by the industry and participated by all agents- that foster research, development and innovation. The SusChem Spain Platform includes all agents in the science-technology-innovation system related to Chemistry and Industrial Biotechnology, where private (most of them, up to 67% of the total) and public entities (the remaining 33%) collaborate and cooperate in several R+D+i initiatives. But not in an exclusive manner. Today, more than ever, we are aware of the fact that solutions to several problems require cross-sector cooperation, and we are moving towards having other sectors take part in our initiatives. This is an extremely rewarding and enriching experience that enables us to evolve somehow.
The European Platform, as well as the rest of SusChem Platforms in 12 different countries, should not be forgotten. All of them include agents in the national system, which makes SusChem a large community of entities that work on and support innovation in the sustainable chemistry field.
In 2015 the platform marks its 10th anniversary. What were its milestones in all these years?
All along these ten years, we have moved a long way forward and been through many changes. The name itself was one of them: we were born as PETEQUS and later on decided to standardize it and move towards the nomenclature of our European counterpart. This is how we changed our name to SusChem Spain.
Leaving the name aside, all along the ten years since the Platform was created, SusChem-Spain has reached several turning points in its consolidation pathway, which involved substantial progress. Activities were plentiful and extremely productive: we brought the different agents in the systems together in the same forum, which substantially increased the number of affiliates. Besides, we facilitated making contacts and fostered networking to launch joint R+D+i projects and initiatives. Moreover, we also supported young talents by means of our SusChem Prizes for Young Chemical Researchers -which are already in its XVII edition- and entrepreneurship by organizing several investment fora.
What does being the driving force of the most sustainable chemistry in Spain entail?
It entails a great responsibility as well as a fascinating challenge that includes the need to value the real social contribution provided by chemical innovations. In the productive aspect, any company that wishes to continue operating in the market knows for sure that, for its activity to be sustainable over time, it needs to be undertaken in terms of Sustainable Development.Doing it otherwise has no present, let alone future projection.
On the foundations of the Platform lie the promotion of cooperative activities and the exchange of knowledge and experience with a view to offering strategic-minded innovative and competitive responses to current and future social challenges. I must insist once again on Sustainable Chemistry being the way for chemical industry to develop as the bright-future sector it is.
In your opinion as the president of the platform, to which point do you consider Spain to be a sustainable country?
Sustainability should be understood from three different perspectives, not only from the environmental point of view. It may seem obvious, but the environmental perspective always seem to prevail over the other two; be that as it may, reaching a balance between the three is essential for real, sustainable development to arise; otherwise it would not be sustainable development, it would be something different. It is fundamental to understand that economic and social sustainability are also essential. This is the Platform’s approach; it could not be otherwise.
Innovations in the chemistry field contribute to solving the big challenges faced by society. The development of new processes and reactions that make it possible to be more efficient in terms of resources and energy -as well as the development of advanced materials and products that facilitate our daily lives- contribute to sustainable development while helping our productive system gain competitiveness and eventually bring about improvements in economy.
The platform goes hand in hand with the FEIQUE federation; do you regard this assistance and support as one of the keys to success?
Indeed. FEIQUE represents the Spanish chemical industry, a well-established sector that, beside generating 11% of the Gross Industrial Product, is the leading private investor in R+D+i and hires almost 21% of the total researchers in industry. This figures clearly show how essential the support given by FEIQUE (which is in fact the support given by the companies in the sector) has been all over this period. The industry is the agent that brings innovations developed in laboratories to our daily lives (in other words, it puts them into practice).
Do you think that our standing up for Smart Chemistry is what the sector undoubtedly stands for as well?
Absolutely. As I mentioned before, the chemical industry provides solutions for other activity sectors; by working together, solutions are found for the complex problems faced by society. This is only possible through innovation, which enables us to improve our efficiency and competitiveness. This is something that has already sunk in deep in the sector.
For society to keep progressing, standing up for research and innovation, both from the public and the private sectors, is essential. This is a message we must get across to our society, with a special focus on new generations. No science means no progress.
The Chemical Industry is present in nearly every economic sector, and it may contribute to the provision of global, sustainable solutions for a wide range of social challenges in terms of energy and climate change, water and nutrition, demographic growth and health, conservation of natural resources and environmental protection. And in the smart cities sector as well.
On several occasions, I heard that SusChem Spain is one of the most active platforms among all national platforms. What do you think your success is due to?
Success lies in companies in the sector standing up for R+D+i, and of course in FEIQUE working hard for the Platform to move ahead and fostering cooperation with other members. This is so because the industrial sector is fully aware of the fact that collaboration is a prerequisite for innovation in many cases. Besides, credit should be given to the team that works day after day to organize activities. My role as a President includes (as it did for my predecessors, Juan José Cerezuela and Pilar Martí) giving advice and ensuring the Platform functions correctly. Without support from the Technical Secretary, we would not be where we are now.
By Ana Crespo