Only 8.5% of those who received their doctorates in Brazil work in companies, according to CGEE study data released last year. Vinícius Galhard Grassi, from Santa Maria, Rio Grande do Sul, belongs to this minority group. At 38 years of age, Grassi has accumulated 16 years of research and development (R&D) experience in the business environment, always in the field of polymers, working in all phases of the innovation process, from product design to its marketplace consolidation.
Vinícius Grassi graduated in Industrial Chemistry from the Federal University of Santa Maria (UFSM) in 1999. In 2000 he started his master’s degree in Materials Science at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS). In 2001 he was hired by Innova to work as a polymer chemist at the unit located in the petrochemical complex of Triunfo (Rio Grande do Sul state). In 2002, he received a master’s degree from UFRGS with his dissertation defense on the chemical resistance of high-impact polystyrene, a work that originated many new products for Innova. Between 2010 and 2013, still working in the company, he concluded his doctorate in Chemistry, which started at UFRGS and finished at the Max Planck Institute for Polymers Research (Germany). In the doctorate, he developed research work related to obtaining and characterizing a polymeric material that mixes polymers made with renewable raw materials and fossils.
In early 2014, after having worked for 13 years at Innova, mainly with styrene polymers, Grassi joined Braskem (the largest producer of thermoplastic resins in the Americas) as R&D project coordinator. In November of 2015, he lead a group of researchers committed to the advanced characterization of materials in the company. Since May 2016, he has been the leader of polymer research at Braskem in Brazil, working with polypropylene (PP), polyethylene (PE) and ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA).
In addition to developing, with his collaborators, a series of products for Innova and Braskem (see interview), Vinícius Grassi is the author of 8 articles published in indexed journals and has 9 patent applications (one deposited in the United States). Two of these patents received awards by Petrobras and the Brazilian Chemical Industry Association (Abiquim).
The researcher was interviewed by SBPMat, as follows.
SBPMat Bulletin: Tell us what led you to study Chemistry and Materials and to work in R&D in the business world.
Vinícius Galhard Grassi: It was my interest and pleasure in studying chemistry, certainly brought about by good teachers in high school. Ever since my university years I was interested in polymers, but I graduated from an university (UFSM) that offered only one discipline in polymers, an elective course. I decided to pursue a Master’s degree in Materials Engineering at UFRGS to deepen my understanding of polymers, and since the beginning I wanted to focus on a topic of interest in the industry. It is a challenge to conduct R&D in the business environment to put science into practice in order to generate a better life for people and for society as a whole, while generating profits for companies. It also allows developing some skills that are representative of the business environment and which are reflected in our own personal life.
SBPMat Bulletin: You did your doctorate while working at Innova. Did you develop any work of interest for the company? If so, did it turn into an innovation?
Vinícius Galhard Grassi: Yes, I started and concluded it while working at Innova, it was a topic of interest for the company but with high scientific content. The doctorate (started at UFRGS and completed at Max Planck for Polymer Research in Germany) generated a patent that has not yet been commercially exploited, as it needs continued scale up efforts.
SBPMat Bulletin: What do you believe to be your most important R&D achievements in Materials? We would like you to go beyond listing the results and briefly describe those works, telling us if they became innovations, as well as how they impacted the market.
Vinícius Galhard Grassi: The master’s work generated a new family of products for Innova, which represents the company’s highly significant turnover, which is protected by a patent already granted. These products are particularly present in refrigerators produced in Brazil. At Braskem I lead the Polymer Research area in Brazil, and the team’s main recent results were the launching of proprietary technology related to produce PP foam grids, launched at the K-Fair in 2016 in Germany (the largest plastics fair in the world), which are already being marketed in Brazil and in the USA. The products fulfill applications from leading automobile manufacturers, as well as other industrial applications. This team also developed the EVA Rubber technology, which is now used in various types of footwear, providing lightness, durability and comfort, bringing competitiveness to the Brazilian industry, as well as a production process of soles with low energy consumption and waste generation. That is, sustainability gains for the supply chain.
SBPMat Bulletin: What were the main challenges or difficulties you encountered in your R&D work in companies?
Vinícius Galhard Grassi: There are several critical moments during a R&D project. 1) Select the best ideas in terms of market potential, and that are patentable (for instance research projects). It is of no use putting resources into bad ideas. 2) Generate consistent results in a flexible manner, with scientifically well-grounded basis, allocating the right resources and competencies. If it is to fail, let it be quick, but obviously be persistent when you really believe in the project. 3) Scaling up: I believe this is the critical step, many projects fail during the scaling up process because small details become significant when the scale is larger. This step is only justified when a client is really interested in the project, since resource and investment allocations are usually considerable.
SBPMat Bulletin: You are coauthor/author of articles and patents. Tell us what the articles and patents mean to you in the context of working in companies.
Vinícius Galhard Grassi: The articles strengthen the scientific vein and represent the individual contribution to the progress of science by sharing knowledge. And patents are valuable assets the researcher creates for the company. It empowers the company to own a technology and strengthens its technology strategy.
SBPMat Bulletin: Leave a message to the young audience in the Materials community who wish to work with R&D in the business environment.
Vinícius Galhard Grassi: As with everything in life, there are advantages and disadvantages to working with R&D in the business world. There is constant pressure for deadlines and results, it is part of everyday life. But this creates a sense of urgency and focus on what is a priority and therefore creates value. The pleasure of seeing a technology being scaled up and reaching the market is incredible and justifies all the effort. And one gets to know and interact with many competent people, who teach you and make you grow as a professional, which reflects back on your personal life. In particular at Braskem, it is a unique opportunity for growth. The environment there is very fertile, if the seed is good and well treated, it really grows!