“In future, I believe that regulation, consumer behaviour and sustainability will force the traditional petrochemical industry to rethink and find alternative ways to move forward.” To say it – in this exclusive interview with Il Bioeconomista – is Bertel Karlstedt, the new CEO of Circa Group, the Oslo-headquartered biochemical company, which is listed on Euronext.

Interview by Mario Bonaccorso

Mr. Karlstedt, what inspired you to accept the challenge of leading a biochemical company?

I already knew Circa and the former CEO Tony Duncan from my time at technology company Valmet. In my last two years at Valmet, I worked with Circa on developing the ReSolute plant in France. I always thought the Circa pyrolysis application was really interesting. So I saw it as a great opportunity to join the company at this important stage in their development and to help bring their first European plant online.

Your background is in pulp, paper and energy. Do you have much experience working in bio-based chemicals?

I’ve been working with biomass in the pulp and paper industry for over 30 years. I left Valmet and Metso in 2005 then when I came back to Valmet in 2015, I noticed that nobody was talking about only pulp anymore. Companies were not building new “pulp mills”. Instead, they were building “bio product mills”. It makes sense as biomass is such a versatile raw material which can be used for so many other higher value chains, as well as producing pulp and paper.

And that’s a really interesting change, especially when we consider how many fossil-based applications can be replaced with bio-based solutions. So, in that sense, I know the raw material really well and also many of Circa’s key partners.

Is there a level playing field between fossil-based chemistry and bio-based chemistry? What do you think will be needed to support the demand for bioproducts?

One of the challenges is that the traditional petrochemical industry is a very large, strong industry. It has been here for a long time and it is resistant to change. In a way, I see parallels between the traditional petrochemical industry and the traditional pulp and paper industry. Pulp and paper has been embracing the change and petrochemicals need to do the same.

In future, I believe that regulation, consumer behaviour and sustainability will force the traditional petrochemical industry to rethink and find alternative ways to move forward. In that sense, I believe that we are on the brink of creating a new sector within the chemical industry. How much resistance we encounter from the incumbent players remains to be seen. On the other hand, they may even speed up the adoption of bio-based solutions by coming on board with us.

What will be your first moves as CEO of Circa and what kind of legacy has Tony Duncan left you?

Circa is a company with a positive, forward-looking drive and very committed people. And Tony has had a central role in building that.

Tony has done tremendous work for the past 17 years. He was able to take Circa from being an idea to a place where the success of FC5 and operations in Australia have enabled us to take a bold, intermediate step toward the next steps in our scale-up journey – to the ReSolute plant and beyond.

For me, the first few weeks and months are all about getting to know the company better, as well as the people. I find meeting people face-to-face helpful, especially at the start. There are also quite a few potential and current partners, whether developmental, construction, or end-use partners that I plan to meet.

What can we expect from Circa in 2024?

We have successfully shifted our operations to Europe so our centre of gravity in terms of organisation and activities is now in Europe. In 2024, there are several things that we need to pursue and accomplish. ReSolute needs to be taken forward significantly and we need clear progress in line with the permits when we receive them. It’s equally important to generate customer interest and get firm commitments from customers about offtake. So those are the two main things — progress on ReSolute and establishing strong customer commitments for the future.

Originally published in Il Bioeconomista