TR: Has it changed the kind of people you hire?
Holliday: Oh, sure. I can’t hire many people with bioengineering degrees yet, so we’ve been purposely placing our best process design people with our bio folks-putting them in the same building and saying, you guys talk to each other. I like to say we’re writing the handbook on bioengineering today.
TR: You have a new corn-based polymer ready for the market, don’t you? Is it DuPont’s first bio-based material?
Holliday: It’s called Sorona. It’s a bit different than polyester, but it’s in the polyester family. It has very good dyeability. It’s got stretch recovery. It’s not quite as good as Lycra, but if you’re wearing a jacket of it, it’s got a little more give, so it’s more comfortable all day. We’re also looking at it in carpets. Half the molecules are going to be made from corn through biotechnology. It’s our first new polymer platform in 30 years.
TR: What else excites you most about what’s coming down the pike?
Holliday: I can’t remember a time where there are more things that really have the potential of being really big-because they’re aimed at important problems. Nylon was kind of like that. It was the right product at the right time. It was wartime-you needed parachutes and you needed reinforcement for tires. I think what we have now is a different kind of war. It’s a war where environmental performance, market knowledge, intimate customer knowledge, pace and innovation are the “fronts” that will determine the sustainability of global business.
We have major superconductivity programs: nobody’s made a lot of money on superconductivity yet, but there’s a potential, and we’re making progress. We’ve got a new superconducting filter system for cell-phone base stations that is in trials now. We’ve got some key materials for fuel cell systems that might power a building, or in the long term, your automobile.
TR: Are displays, like those made of organic light-emitting diodes, another big potential growth area for DuPont?
Holliday: Major. It’s clear, people need better displays. They need less energy consumption. In addition, they need them made out of plastics so they won’t break. We work with Uniax, a little company we bought out on the West Coast from Alan Heeger, who won a Nobel Prize for chemistry last year. DuPont holds a majority stake in Polar Vision, an innovative optical components and lamination services provider serving the display industry. And we’ve ventured with RiTEK Display Technology in Taiwan to produce OLED [organic light-emitting diode] glass panels exclusively for DuPont Displays using proprietary technology from DuPont and Uniax. So we’re putting together a consortium of folks that we think can turn out a display that’s polymer based-far brighter, lighter, flexible, break resistant and much more energy efficient than the current technology. We showed prototypes at the last major technical show. We’ll have products in the marketplace next year.
I’ll never forget a meeting with Bill Gates three years ago, talking about what we could do together. Basically, what he said was, “I need a display people can read. Because even at Microsoft, if it’s two pages, we print.” And so if we could get a display that’s so good you would prefer it over paper and like it enough to even want to sit back and read it in bed, you can. That’s going to happen, and we can play a role in that gigantic market.