Green chemistry to bring significant CO2 savings in the process chain

With the climate objectives for 2050, the chemical sector must also become more sustainable. According to David Pappie, director of major sectors and industrial policy at the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate, the only question is how.

By 2050, the Dutch chemical sector must reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 to 95% to meet the Paris climate targets. How urgent is the sector to become more sustainable?

“At the time, I was a member of the climate negotiation team at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Change. The need to pursue climate goals and stop global warming is widely supported within the chemical industry. The only question is: how to do it? At the same time, people are also realizing that the longer you wait, the more it costs. In addition, the transition is also seen as an opportunity. The knowledge and expertise we acquire in the Netherlands can also be marketed internationally by companies.

Hence the name of the coalition of “partners in crime” Green chemistry, New economy. In addition to economic opportunities, however, there are also hurdles, according to President Arnold Stokking, such as current regulations that are not up to date. Why is that?

“There are discussions in the political arena: what are the most promising developments? Necessary friction arises on this point. What are, for example, the preconditions? You can tell a business to become more sustainable and use green energy, but what about the necessary infrastructure? The same is true of regulations regarding bio-based materials and the recycling of raw materials, where regulations and government funding mechanisms pinch.

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Read also: Arnold Stokking: Making the chemical industry more sustainable goes hand in hand with the circular economy

Where are these bottlenecks?

“Well, don’t blame the Paris Climate Agreement, but agreements were made at the time with countries regarding the reduction of CO2 emissions from the stack. This applies to both business and to households: CO2 literally comes out of the chimney there, while bio-based materials and circular solutions are much more about CO2 savings throughout the process chain. So what we look at a lot less is ‘chain effect in the biobased and circular use of raw materials. “

What implications does this have?

“We are all convinced that it is possible to recycle plastic. Not only mechanically but also chemically, by bringing the plastic back into the crackers. This allows it to be reused as a raw material, instead of burning it or, worse yet, leaving it to end up in plastic soup. What’s the problem with that? There is often no incentive for companies to recycle, whereas when you burn waste there is a lot of carbon emissions. But you also want to keep the carbon in the chain. However, there is no incentive to do it, at least not in the right place. “

How could you provide these incentives, however?

First, by rewarding the industry for manufacturing these recycled raw materials. Second, by building a place for it in the process chain. Companies like Coca Cola, Nestlé or Unilever have ambitions in terms of using recycled or plant-based plastics, such as PEF, with which Avantium has made great progress in the manufacture of biodegradable bottles. But the collection and logistics to deliver high volume pure plastic raw material flows to chemical crackers still lack adequate legislation. For example, materials fall under the category of “waste”. There are all kinds of rules on how to safely turn these waste streams into raw materials. “

What should change in these regulations?

“Our current set of instruments as a whole is very focused on converting what already exists. There are also grants for this. But if you really want to start something new, to make it more sustainable, there are too few opportunities to stimulate that, while there are all kinds of good opportunities, for example with bio-based materials, such as bioplastics from sugar beet. Our funding and incentive programs often do not allow this because they are heavily focused on energy and less on chemicals.

It all sounds like sadness and sadness. However, there are all kinds of promising developments as well.

David Pappie, Director of Top Sectors and Industrial Policy at the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy

I fervently hope that there will be movement on this over the next four years under the new cabinet, in terms of standards and legal regulations to increase the share of bioplastics, taxes and deductions, as well as programs. incentives and subsidies up to and including changes to the Waste Fund. The latter concerns the collection of plastic. For now, this is mostly packaging material, but it could very well be expanded further. To the plastic fibers of textiles and polystyrene, for example.

Looks like everything is pessimistic. However, there are all kinds of promising developments as well. For example, things are moving in the right direction with regard to the range of instruments at both European and national level. One example is the creation of the National Growth Fund, for which green chemistry and the new economy have also applied. And all kinds of things are happening in Brussels as well.

What role do the regions and provinces play in these developments?

“Everything we offer at the national level comes down to the regions. This translates into a cluster approach, like the Groningen cluster in Eemshaven and the South West region in ENZuid. However, regions also play an important role in the area of ​​funding, not only in the ROMs (regional development agencies) but also in the financial support of start-ups and scale-ups. We should certainly not forget the importance of in this regard.

What opportunities does making the chemicals sector more sustainable offer the Netherlands?

“The Netherlands has a good starting position when it comes to chemical waste recycling. There are a number of big crackers in the Netherlands, there is a good infrastructure and a link with the big ports. The transformation of waste into raw materials could thus be drawn on a larger scale from European waste. To this end, excellent networks are already in place in the fossil fuel industry. The only difference is that these are other flows such as hydrogen, CO2 or biobased raw material flows.

The production of bio-based materials also offers great opportunities. There is already a link between the agricultural and chemical sectors. Good examples are, for example, Corbion and Avantium, companies leading the way in the production of polymers and PEFs. However, we will continue to need carbon in the future. Only now we get it from coal and oil, soon it will come from CO2 and bio-based raw materials. “

What do entrepreneurs need? And what can you as a government do about it?

“We want to create the preconditions for entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are there to do business. We want to facilitate this by providing an adequate set of instruments. Innovation plays an important role here. I have high expectations for the near future in this regard. To achieve this, we need to develop our knowledge and skills. So we’ll have to invest in pilots and pilot plants, where all kinds of things can be tested so that we can expand them further and bring them to market. For the next four years, I hope that new resources will make this possible.

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