Moving towards a more resource efficient society means creating a systemic change in the way we use resources – doing more or better with less. In a world of finite resources with a rapidly growing population, efficient use of energy and natural resources is a crucial aspect of sustainable development.
The EU has highlighted resource efficiency as one of the seven flagship initiatives under the Europe 2020 strategy which aims at building smart, sustainable and inclusive growth for Europe.
The chemical industry plays a key role in building a resource-efficient, low-carbon economy in Europe. The industry has already made progress in decoupling resource use from production growth, but further improvements are needed. At the same time, chemicals serve as input into essentially all sectors: they enable solutions that improve resource efficiency throughout the economy.
Resource efficiency in the chemical industry and in the value chain
Ensuring that energy and raw materials are used in an efficient, sustainable way is important for the competitiveness of the chemical industry, for its customers and the end-users of its products. A step-change improvement is required in the efficiency of delivering the products and services that consumers require and deem necessary for their well-being.
The chemical industry uses a variety of natural and processed raw materials, including metals, minerals and agricultural raw materials such as sugar, starch and fats. Another important issue is the sustainable use of services that ecosystems like water, air, soil provide to the society.
A paradigm shift can be achieved by developing an integrated resource and energy efficiency strategy along the full value chain. This means assessing products and processes so that all input resources (including raw materials, renewable feedstocks, energy, water etc), all processes, output materials (including products, by-products and waste streams) and all recycle options are fully optimised.
The chemical industry develops products and materials and enables solutions that improve resource efficiency in other sectors and throughout the economy.
Chemical innovation is at the roots of renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency in areas such as housing and mobility. It also helps enable and commercialize renewable material use and the provision of clean drinking water.
The chemical industry plays a key role in the shift towards a low-carbon economy. According to a study commissioned by the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA), the global chemical sector currently delivers two tonnes of greenhouse gas savings for every tonne emitted in the production processes. The most important areas of emissions savings are thermal insulation, farming, lighting, transport, packaging, textiles and other consumer goods.
To enhance resource efficiency throughout the product life cycle, targeted life cycle analyses that span from raw materials to end of life and take into account the different dimensions of sustainability are essential. Cooperation with partners across the value chain is needed to advance sustainable production and consumption in the EU and globally.
Cefic is a partner of the Sustainable Process Industry through Resource and Energy Efficiency (SPIRE) Public-Private Partnership (PPP) which has been launched as part of the Horizon2020 framework programme. The SPIRE Public-Private Partnership is the first-ever cross-sectorial partnership between the European Commission and eight industrial sectors: chemical, steel, engineering, minerals, non-ferrous metals, cement, ceramics and water.
SPIRE aims to develop enabling technologies and solutions along the value chain that are essential to the long-term sustainability of the European process industries. Specifically, by 2030 SPIRE aims to reduce fossil energy intensity in the process industries by up to 30% from the current levels and reduce non-renewable primary raw material intensity by up to 20% from the current levels. Together these two ambitious objectives will contribute considerably to efficiency improvement in CO2-equivalent footprints of up to 40% from current levels in the European process industries.
To achieve this SPIRE brings together large corporate members, top-level academics and high-tech SMEs to create multi-disciplinary and cross-sectorial breakthrough technologies. The initiative will also work with public and private bodies to promote uptake of new solutions and adapt business models to embrace resource and energy efficiency.
Sustainable chemistry solutions will be at the heart of the enabling technologies that SPIRE develops and SusChem will play an important role in directing and contributing to this ambitious PPP programme.
Download the SPIRE brochure "Sustainable Process Industry - Public and Private Partnership"
Download the SPIRE Roadmap
Other partnerships for resource efficiency
Cefic supports ongoing efforts to further enhance resource efficiency in the chemical industry through initiatives such as for example:
- the CARE+ projects for chemicals SMEs
- the R4R project developed by six regions in Europe with a strong chemical industry presence.
The chemical industry works with the EU and global partners to address resource challenges through platforms such as the European Technology Platform for Sustainable Chemistry (SusChem) and the Responsible Care initiative.
The European chemical industry is also ready to be a key partner for shaping the future European Innovation partnerships in areas with high impact on resource efficiency along the value chain, such as water efficiency, raw materials and smart cities.