According to chemical industry association Cefic, the EU chemical industry’s share of world markets has seriously declined in the past 20 years. In 1995 EU industry sales were €326 billion, representing 32.3% of worldwide chemicals sales. Two decades on, the EU chemicals sales have grown almost 60% but the market share has dropped to a meager 14.7% in 2015. This “dilution effect” looks set to continue. Demand for chemicals is growing strongly in China, India and other emerging countries but slowly in Europe and North America, where Europe sells most of its chemicals. What can sustainable innovation contribute to this challenge?
Between April and July 2016, Finch & Beak conducted a research on the maturity of circularity in the chemicals sector. The findings, based on four years of Dow Jones Sustainability Index data, assure that frontrunners in the chemical sector have a far higher share of environmental innovations for both processes and products. Even more tellingly, these frontrunners generate an almost 12% higher revenue share with those innovations (25.4% vs. 22.7%).
Frontrunner examples from Covestro and AkzoNobel:
With 2016 sales of €11.9 billion, Covestro is among the world’s largest polymer companies. Business activities are focused on manufacturing of high-tech polymer materials and the development of innovative solutions for products used in many areas of daily life. Research between Covestro (formerly Bayer MaterialScience) and the CAT Catalytic Center at RWTH Aachen University resulted in using CO2 as a building block for polyurethane foam feedstocks. Covestro commissioned its 5,000 tonnes-a-year demonstration plant in Dormagen, which uses 20% CO2 in its feedstock mix, in June 2016. The CO2 used is a waste product from a neighbouring chemical company.
AkzoNobel’s Waste2Chemicals program objective is to realize a circular cycle in which waste, residual bio-mass and other feedstock, is collected and then used as resource to produce methanol, which is then used as a raw material to produce high-value chemicals.
The realization of Waste2Chemicals was something that AkzoNobel could not have done in isolation. Ultimately, AkzoNobel attracted 14 partners such as leading waste-to-product company Van Gansewinkel (now Renewi) and Air Liquide to join the initiative. As all 14 companies are spread out in the value chain, all actors in the initiative can contribute to reducing the overall environmental footprint by focusing on their individual strengths. At current the construction of the first Waste2Chemicals factory in Rotterdam is under investigation.
For the whole sector, as well as other industries, the company that produced the research, Finch&Beak, help companies answer the question: how to drive innovation based upon a circular economy model. What to do to capture the hidden value? With a low cost/high yield 7-week program: the Circular Economy Sprint.
Adapting backlog and sprint techniques from the widely spread Scrum-methodology, the Circular Economy Sprint has several benefits:
- Get going in the Circular Economy: Make Circular Economy thinking part of doing business by jumpstarting your program today to deliver big benefits tomorrow.
- Capture value from your existing business: Accelerate your sustainability program by locating attractive Circular Economy savings and start cashing in on them.
- Create new business opportunities: Develop new value propositions. Invest a small budget and produce tested business cases in just 7 weeks.
- Build a team of trained practitioners: Develop a thorough joint understanding of the Circular Economy as well as a common language.
Today’s biggest sustainability challenges provide plenty of opportunities for companies to differentiate themselves and to create immediate impact. Organizations in chemistry and many industries are currently – and will increasingly need to – start implementing circular business practices.