Planet – Resource efficiency
Towards a circular economy
Pressure is growing to use resources as efficiently as possible, and to re-use and recycle materials, and is being further intensified by European Commission’s Circular Economy Package. For the chemicals, plastics and life sciences industry, the optimisation of manufacturing processes is a continuous priority. The Belgian petrochemicals cluster is a prime example of this, characterised by its interconnectivity, in which side-streams of one production unit are used as raw materials for others and utilities are often shared.
Energy vectors such as petroleum, natural gas and electricity are not only used as energy source but also as raw material for industrial processes. In 2015, 99% of petroleum (mainly naphtha) and 35% of the natural gas consumption of the sector were directly converted into higher value materials.
The amount of energy used as a raw material in the chemicals industry and imports of chemical products and half-finished chemical products are used as proxy indicators for its resource efficiency.
Over the last decade, the production index for the chemicals, plastics and life sciences industry increased by 45% while the proportion of energy used as a raw material grew by only 3%. Over the same period, there was a slight increase in imports of chemical products or half-finished chemical products, but the import data do not allow for a distinction to be made between different economic sectors based on NACE (European industrial activity classification) codes. Therefore, the reported data need to be considered as conservative.
Different approaches are taken to reduce the consumption of primary raw materials:
- recycling raw materials, solvents, processing aids, catalysts;
- recycling production waste;
- incorporating recycled plastics by plastic converters;
- transitioning to low carbon technologies such as carbon capture and usage and biomass-conversion.
This is also reflected in the strategic priorities of the spearhead clusters Catalisti in Flanders and Biowin & Greenwin in the Walloon region, to stimulate collaborative innovation projects in these fields.