April 17, 2017

Fostering Chemical Innovation


Mark Vergnano, President and CEO, gives us his take on innovation in the chemical industry.

An image of Mark Vergnano, President and CEO of The Chemours Company.


Is innovation still possible in the chemical industry?

I have heard people speculate that we can’t push chemistry much further. But we can. We have to. People want to live better lives no matter where they are. And those aspirations—those expectations—place demands on us, for more capabilities and more capacity. We need to unleash the power of new molecules and use new technology to move science forward. We have seen this take place in other spaces. Big data, for instance, can speed up research and help us solve problems that might have stumped us before.

We’re also finding ways to reboot older technologies so they meet new customer demands for more eco-friendly products. We took last-generation HFC refrigerants and did just that. Now our Opteon™ YF refrigerants deliver 99% lower global warming potential than previous-generation products.

What’s fueling innovation these days?

We’re seeing a big shift from mass production to mass customization. The idea is to personalize a product with scalable, cost-effective technology. That’s something Chemours already does: we codevelop applications with our customers to help them meet the needs of established as well as new and growing markets.

You’re seeing semiconductors get smaller, smarter, and faster, for instance. You can find our Teflon™ PTFE—based materials used in semiconductors; they enable this process through the unique properties of our fluoropolymers, so we’re helping make this progress possible.

How can chemical companies create an innovative culture?

Focus on how and whom you hire. Our people are the most vital element in chemistry—in any business, really. Make sure you recruit from different generations and from a variety of cultures and backgrounds. Chemours, for an example, is a strong proponent of women in STEM.

Consider adding different personalities to the mix; that’s another way to shake things up and point you to something new. And bring on people who are curious—passionate curiosity is what drives our company’s spirit of innovation.

And remember: diversity is good business. There is growing evidence to suggest that diverse companies actually perform better than nondiverse companies.*

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*Source: Harvard Business Review. December 2013.

This content was featured in the Chemical & Engineering News 04/17/17 issue.