Patrick Maestro, a former Scientific Director at Solvay, has been involved in the Carbon Waters adventure for several years. Thanks to his extensive experience and knowledge of the chemical sector, and in particular polymers and composites, he is now helping the company to grow from strength to strength. Interview with a man passionate about chemistry and the Bordeaux region.
Is it true that your background is 100% Bordeaux?
Patrick Maestro: That’s true in terms of training. I studied at the University of Bordeaux in the 1970s and graduated with a PhD, after spending five years at the Laboratoire de Chimie du Solide (now the ICMCB), where I was able to combine training in physics and chemistry. At the end of my studies, I was hired by Rhône-Poulenc, the largest chemical and pharmaceutical group in France at the time, which had subsidized my thesis. I moved to their Aubervilliers Research Center, and for me it was the big move north! There, I worked for twenty years in a research laboratory.
I came back to the Bordeaux region twenty years ago because it’s my heartland! There, as Rhodia’s scientific director I created the Laboratoire du Futur, and developed many interactions with local academic laboratories, including the CRPP, which led me to interact with Carbon Waters right from the start. Personally, I settled in Lacanau, in the middle of the forest and close to the water. And today I’m enjoying it to the full, having retired a few months ago. Only the birds that sometimes enter through the bay window in the living room disturb this tranquillity (laughs).
At Rhône-Poulenc, you moved from laboratory research to Scientific Management?
PM: Yes, I became Scientific Director at Rhodia when Rhône-Poulenc split into three (Rhodia for the chemicals branch, Bayer for Agrochemicals, and Aventis (now Sanofi) for the pharmaceuticals branch). Finally, Solvay bought Rhodia in 2011, and I became Solvay’s Scientific Director.
It’s a position I’ve held for almost twenty years, developing the scientific and technological skills needed to develop useful products and solutions for our customers. This involved setting up numerous partnerships at all levels. I established partnerships with the academic world, including the CNRS and equivalent bodies around the world, with leading foreign scientists, and also with start-ups. About start-ups, I was Solvay’s scientific guarantor for its Ventures activity, assessing the technical validity of projects in chemistry-related start-ups.
How do you look back on your career now that you’ve retired?
PM: I’ve always seen my work as a privilege and a source of fun, because things were always changing. I never imagined I would be exposed to so many different scientific areas, and meet so many extraordinary and interesting people. I learnt a lot from all these exchanges. That’s the great thing about being a researcher: you’re always looking for ways to get off the beaten track. That’s why I didn’t want to cut back completely, even after retirement, and take up gardening or DIY, for example – too risky for me and my relatives … (laughs).
Today, I’m continuing to support a number of start-ups, I’m Secretary General of EuroCase, an association of European technology academies, and I’ve been President of Invest in Bordeaux for a few weeks now. In short, I don’t have time to get bored, and that’s what I like.
What is your history with Carbon Waters?
PM: During all my career, I have had very strong and good relations with the CNRS. I was a member of the prematurity committee, in which we validated the support to projects of research laboratories wishing to develop their idea towards potential industrialization, after filing a patent, by transferring a license or creating a start-up.
I thus attended the presentation of Carlos Drummond and Alain Pénicaud’s project for their aqueous graphene dispersions. The committee approved the project and I became its referent.
What did you personally think of the project?
PM: I thought it was a remarkable idea! In my opinion, it had real potential, but it needed to be supported in its industrial reality. On the one hand, in terms of process, because the vision was too laboratory-oriented, not industrial enough. Today, Raymond Michel is working with Carbon Waters on this project. On the other hand, we needed to focus on the possible sectors and fields of application for Carbon Waters’ graphene-based additives, and that’s where my area of expertise lies.
Another point I’d like to stress is that if the Carbon Waters project has worked well, I think it’s to a significant
extent because Alain and Carlos have been able to let the start-up develop without systematically intervening in every decision. It’s often difficult for the scientists behind a project to know how to detach themselves from it. This was not a problem here.
What do you do to help Carbon Waters today?
PM: I’m currently a member of Carbon Waters’ Scientific Advisory Board. I provide scientific and technological support, particularly for applications in polymers and composites. I also help the company by putting their people in touch with other companies through my network of contacts.
You are also a guest at INFINIMAT, can you tell us more about that?
PM: Yes, I’ll be speaking at INFINIMAT 2023, hosting a conference on the subject of “The polymers & composites market: what opportunities for graphene?”. The idea will be to present all the advantages of Carbon Waters’ graphene-based formulations in these materials to the industrialists present. I’ll also discuss the challenges they address (environmental, economic, regulatory, etc.), drawing on the main results obtained in the laboratory. For example, graphene has excellent anticorrosion and mechanical reinforcement properties for polymers
And what do you wish for Carbon Waters in the future?
PM: I see Carbon Waters as THE graphene formulation company, thanks to its unique technology and products.
Today, the company is at a crossroads. It’s starting to gain recognition, win awards… This is the moment when it needs to be ready for industrialization. I’m not worried about customer demand, because the products that come out of the laboratory are high-performance, but now the challenge is to produce these dispersions on the scale of tons, always with the same quality. I wish Carbon Waters every success in meeting its specifications and deadlines, for it is truly in the key phase of its development. Of course, they can always count on my support.