Report sets out pathway for transformation of the chemical sector to become an enabler of a sustainable global economy

16 September 2022 | Muriel Cozier

‘The chemical industry is currently lagging in its commitment to science-based targets to transition to net-zero emissions.’

A report setting out ‘credible pathways for the chemical industry to become an enabler of a sustainable global economy,’ has been released by Systemiq and the Center for Global Commons (CGC) at the University of Tokyo. Systemiq, established in 2016, is an organisation focused on ‘driving the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement.’ The CGC was set up during 2020 with the aim of seeing universities play a leading role in driving social change by collaborating with leaders in a wide range of fields.

The report: Planet Positive Chemicals is said to ‘provide an unprecedented blueprint for the future of the chemical industry, which is worth $4.7 trillion in annual revenues.’ It also recognises ‘The ubiquity of chemicals in modern life and the important role the industry will play in helping other sectors get to net-zero.’

The report asserts that accounting for 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions, the chemical industry must end its dependency on fossil fuels and embrace a more circular, low emissions operating model. Asserting that the chemical industry can reinvent itself as a climate solution – becoming carbon negative by early 2040s and acting as carbon sink by 2050, the report identifies the need for radical interventions on both supply and demand sides for the industry to operate within ‘planetary boundaries.’ The transition could also create some 29 million jobs around the world, the report says.

‘The chemical industry is currently lagging in its commitment to science-based targets to transition to net-zero emissions and is expected to be the last system to achieve the key tipping points needed to mainstream emission reduction technologies,’ the report says. However, based on a detailed economic model that outlines future pathways for the chemical system from 2020-2050 the report sets out three key opportunities. One of these is new manufacturing approaches based on bio-based feedstock and direct air captured carbon dioxide.

Looking at the implications of such transitions and the need for innovation the report says: ‘Ensuring that this transformation is possible at an affordable rate and with feasible economics will require the innovation community to fast-track critical technology innovations to commercial scale, specifically methanol-to-aromatics technologies, carbon capture technologies, and electrolysers […] Breakthrough technologies capable of disrupting the industry (e.g. biotechnology , electrochemistry) should be supported generously via R&D funding and scale-up programs. The authors said that their report ‘aims to help the industry and policy makers unite around a common view of the path ahead and accelerate the transition to a sustainable model of operations.’

Chad Holliday, former CEO of DuPont and former Chairman of Shell said: ‘We need realistic and immediate action from industry on the climate goals agreed at international level. We want to see ambitious companies grabbing the opportunities represented by the global net-zero transition, and as the former CEO of a chemicals company, I firmly believe a planet positive chemicals industry is possible…’

A discussion on the Planet Positive Chemicals report will be held on 10 October, with Chad Holliday among the panellists.

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