Interview with Jochen Nühlen

Broad discourse on plastic packaging and the circular economy

Interview of 05.06.2020

Jochen Nühlen | Business Development Polymer Materials
© Markus Laghanke
Jochen Nühlen | Business Development Polymer Materials

What exactly are your responsibilities as a business developer?

Jochen Nühlen: As business developer for the Business Unit Polymer Materials, I am the contact person for the recycling of UMSICHT topics in the plastics sector. I accompany the implementation of projects in the polymer sector into industrial practice, support the development of R&D services for the subject area from a strategic point of view and evaluate current trends, developments and needs from society and industry for our UMSICHT teams. I am the contact for all colleagues at the institute as well as for our partners and interested parties from industry. So the tasks are as varied as the services and projects at the Institute – so it never gets boring.

What characterizes the market for which you are responsible?

Jochen Nühlen: The market for polymer materials is above all diverse. Versatile, especially in terms of the widespread, ubiquitous areas of application and the associated requirements from the associated industries. Versatile also in terms of the challenges facing this market. In recent years in particular, plastics and their applications have become the focus of social and political attention because of global drivers such as resource, climate and environmental protection. In particular, the broad social and political discourse on plastic packaging is exemplary for the printing industry and the incipient upheaval. Largely triggered by reports on microplastics and the challenges of waste management, the topic of the circular economy is also shaping the market with the EU plastics strategy published at the end of 2018 at the latest. But packaging is only one of many uses, and the opportunities for polymer materials and their applications are just as varied as the challenges mentioned in the specific example. Biodegradable polymers, the use of renewable raw materials and new circular business models with innovative recycling concepts are major current developments. As the national information center for sustainable plastics and head of the Fraunhofer Cluster Circular Plastics Economy CCPE, we are one of the few knowledge carriers in the plastics sector to offer expertise ranging from the development and synthesis of polymers, their functionalization and sample production to life cycle assessment and business model development. This puts us in a good position to address both the demands of the industry and the challenges of politics and consumers.

What in particular distinguishes a business developer?

Jochen Nühlen: A good business developer should consciously question existing exploitation paths and purposefully link skills and knowledge at the institute. To achieve this, the needs of industry and society must always be identified and worked out in a dialogue. Translating this need and acting as a link and networker between market and research is, in my view, the core of business development. Only in this way can existing business areas be further developed and, in particular, new value chains be opened up. Business Development should therefore be characterized above all by the fact that it is never static, that it is creative and flexible in its approach to the respective requirements of the topic to be worked on and that it develops specific solutions. In my opinion, communication skills, organizational talent and cross-sectional knowledge are as important as curiosity and no fear of new ways of thinking. In my opinion, however, in business development you have to be a team player above all, because close exchange with departments and groups, but also with partners, is essential.

What knowledge do you bring to this job?

Jochen Nühlen: Through my previous field of work in the area of sustainability and resource management, I have gained insights over many years into different areas at UMSICHT, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, but also into various industrial companies and sectors. The topics I have previously worked on in the fields of recycling management, the circular economy and environmental management require interdisciplinary knowledge, cross-industry thinking and an understanding of systems. I am therefore very familiar with working across departments and topics. I can bring this background to my current tasks, especially since the above-mentioned topics are becoming increasingly important, especially in the fields of plastics industry and polymer research. On the other hand, I have always enjoyed working in idea generation and project acquisition, coordination and communication, and I enjoy bringing people with good ideas together.