Rev. June 28, 2006
DuPont’s Biomax®: The Push for Commercial Applications
Biomax®, a polyester material that can be recycled or decomposed, holds up under normal commercial conditions for a time period established in the product specifications. The material itself can be made into fibers, films, or resins and is suitable for countless agricultural, industrial, and consumer products: mulch containers, mulching film, seed mats, plant pots, disposable eating utensils, blister packs, yard waste bags, parts of disposable diapers, blown bottles, injection molded products, coated paper products, and many, many others. In the United State alone, where the average household creates over three tons of disposable waste each year, the number of potential applications for Biomax® is immense. Its development represents a potentially huge business for DuPont and an important solution to the mounting problem of solid waste in developed countries. In 1989 at the inception of the project, DuPont executives were pressing research units to find new products with commercial applications. One of these research units had-developed a new "melt-spun" elastomeric material and was seeking commercial applications through the Success Group, its business development unit. The initial target application was as a substitute for the tapes then used on disposable baby diapers, which at that time used more expensive DuPont Lycra for that purpose. Rather than lose that business, however, the division dropped the price of Lycra. The project had reached its first dead end. A senior research associate of the Success Group, Ray Tietz, had noted the degradable characteristics of this new material. "One of the problems they had with the fibers we made with this material was that it would disintegrate if you boiled it in water. This was because of the sulphonate in it. I knew that if I made a polyester with this stuff in it, it would probably hydrolyze quickly. Iit might even be biodegradable." John Moore, the head of the Success Group, was a high energy "promoter," as one colleague described him. He was determined to find a customer for whom degradability would be an important benefit-hopefully, a big one. A logical target was Procter & Gamble, a major vendor of disposable diapers. Procter & Gamble first introduced the disposable diaper in 1961 and by 1989 had built it into a huge business. Its success, however, coincided with a period of growing environmental This case was prepared by Mark Rice, Gina O’Connor, Richard Leifer, Christopher McDermott, Lois Peters, and Robert Veryzer, Jr. of the Lally School of Management and Technology, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY as a basis for class discussion, and is not designed to present illustrations of either correct or incorrect handling of management problems. All rights reserved © 2000. To order copies or request permission to reproduce materials, call 1-518-276-6842 or write Dr. Gina Colarelli O’Connor, Lally School of Management & Technology, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 110 Eighth Street, Troy, NY 12180. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, used in a spreadsheet, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the permission of the Lally School of Management & Technology.
awareness, and it didn't take long before the millions of used diapers sold by P&G and it imitators were attracting the attention of activists and regulators. By the 1980s, a growing number of voices were talking about either banning or significantly restricting the use of this class of products. Sensing the public mood and nervous about possible regulations, P&G was more than willing to listen to Moore's pitch about the new de- gradable material. It even revealed its interest in the development of an entirely new...