Spotlight Solvay: Chemical Progress Through Science and Humanity

May 28, 2021
By Knowledge Leaders Team in Knowledge Leaders

During the pandemic, Brussels, Belgium-based materials manufacturer Solvay provided hydrogen peroxide, hand sanitizer, face shields and financial assistance to families in distress. Founder Ernest Solvay, who believed mankind’s progress would be driven by science and took a humanitarian view on corporate growth, would have approved. He founded the company on the back of his own chemistry breakthrough: in 1863 Ernest Solvay invented the ammonia-soda process for converting salt brine from the sea into “soda ash,” a reactive ingredient used to produce glass, textiles and detergents. By the year 1900, the “Solvay Process” was being used to produce 95 percent of the world’s soda ash. Ernest Solvay would go on to convene leading scientists at regular conferences to discuss advances in physics and chemistry, a tradition that continues to this day.

Building on that leadership, today the company manufactures performance materials, including plastics for batteries and transportation, chemicals like guar and vanillin for food and agriculture, coatings for health care and electronics, and detergents for home and commercial cleaning. It attributes its long track record to an ability to continually adapt during its 153-year history, through two world wars, depression, recession, geopolitical upheaval, and technological revolutions.

For example, the firm develops safe, eco-friendly products for home cleaning that provide results and also stay ahead of industry trends—some of them now with 100 percent natural ingredients. Solvay’s Repel-O-Tex soil release polymers for laundry have hydrophobic and hydrophilic components that bind to fabric to release soils and stains while at the same time hindering further soil adhesion. In the future, Solvay aims to continue to apply its considerable chemical expertise to solving the climate crisis. To that end, one current initiative is the reengineering of its cleaning products to be certified with ecolabels.

Solvay uses a naturally occurring substance to create a veterinary prescription solution for removing sea lice from farmed salmon, photo credit: Solvay

As of 3/31/21 Solvay was held in the Knowledge Leaders Strategy.

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