The chemical industry assumes a central position in the transition to a sustainable, circular and low-carbon economy. That is due to the essential nature of chemicals: they are elements of virtually all value chains in our economy. As such an essential ingredient, chemicals are therefore vital to enable sustainable changes.
In fact, the “green” chemicals market was valued at USD 90.5 billion in 2019 globally, and is predicted to exceed an estimated USD 165 billion by 2027. Key drivers for the growing market include increasingly rigorous regulations and growing public awareness, as well as technological innovations.
The various sustainability challenges must be tackled from two points of view: The industry’s own ecological footprint and the sustainability of downstream value chains. Consequently, the companies’ own value chain as well as the downstream value chain need to continuously be challenged in their processes. As for the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions, those arise primarily from the usage of fossil fuels, gas flaring practices and flue gas release. Moreover, the industry’s energy mix needs to undergo a change, as it still heavily relies on fossil feedstocks and fossil fuel energy. Research into how CO2 itself may be used as a feedstock has a great potential of improving the chemical industry’s footprint.
Besides that, the central value proposition of chemicals is their impact on all related industries: The promotion of sustainable innovations can greatly alter the way in which other industries produce. Examples include e-mobility, food supply and green housing. Many sustainable innovations are enabled by the chemical industry. Chemical recycling, for instance, is a chance to deal with the ever-increasing amount of plastics on the planet, plastic that is ending up in landfills, rivers and oceans and ultimately pollutes the environment, animals and humans alike.
Adopting a proactive approach is essential for chemical companies seeking to actively create and seize new opportunities – rather than reacting to current or past market developments. Two core technology enablers have been identified: digitalisation and industrial symbiosis. Digitalisation helps the industry in managing processes, accelerating new materials’ development, improving energy efficiency and conducting R&D. Industrial symbiosis entails industries and sectors working together in the development of new solutions and strategies.
Overall, the chemical industry acts as a key player in the transition towards sustainable processes. Its central role makes the market developments extremely important and serve as a roadmap for other industries as well. Among the numerous challenges (customer health, environmental compliance, energy management, …), chemical companies also find countless growth opportunities.