The global chemical industry is picking up speed in its transition to sustainable, bio-based products and processes. Companies that adopt green chemicals see a return on their investment: between 2015 and 2019, sales of consumer products marketed from a green chemistry perspective grew almost 13 times as fast as their conventionally-marketed counterparts. Even sectors that are traditionally slow to change, like commodity chemicals, have begun the transition, publishing sustainability reports and working on sustainable product portfolios.
Commitments to Net Zero targets are growing, at both company and government levels. Significant investments are being committed from a variety of sources to make this ambition a reality. But while Net Zero in many industries requires decarbonisation, in the chemical industry the conversation must be about defossilisation. Carbon is a necessary element in chemistry, and therefore the trend in chemicals is towards renewable sources of carbon, such as biobased feedstocks or captured CO2.
As part of the European Green Deal, the European Commission released a 2021 communication on sustainable carbon cycles, stating an aim to adopt at least 20% renewable carbon content in chemical and plastic products by 2030. This sets a real target for companies to work towards, bringing the vague ambition of “transition to renewable chemistry” into concrete, achievable terms. To be competitive in this future market, chemical companies must invest in development and adoption of renewable carbon sources.
The challenge of scaling up these new green chemistries should not be underestimated. Though downstream pull is growing, there are persistent barriers to chemical scale-up. In some sectors, like personal care, the downstream pull is strong but the supply of alternatives is insufficient—a mismatch between supply and demand. In sectors like building materials, there are many available alternatives (some ancient, some modern), but price, performance, and lack of knowledge inhibit their adoption. Successful commercialisation of green chemistry requires investment in R&D, transparent sharing of information, and a great deal of collaboration, within sectors and across value chains.
Let’s hope the discussions at this panel session with leading bioeconomy and biotechnology organisations at the CHEMUK Expo 2023 spark all of the above.
Anna Zhenova, CEO Green Rose Chemistry
Green Rose Chemistry: https://greenrosechemistry.com/