How can we deliver on the Paris Agreement? The side event at the EU pavilion at COP23 discussed the role of chemistry in promoting the SDGs through a low-carbon economy on Tuesday, 7th of November in Bonn. This side event was jointly organised by ISC3, the European Association for Chemical and Molecular Sciences (EuCheMS), the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA) and the German Chemical Industry Association (VCI).
The chemical industry is an energy intensive industry, but also contributes to many solutions that increase the energy efficiency in multiple sectors and contribute to an increase of renewable energy supply, thereby reducing and avoiding emissions in many value chains. Peter Botschek of ICCA presented calculations by Ecofys on the impact of chemical products on wind and solar power, efficient building envelopes, efficient lighting, electric cars, fuel efficient tires and lightweight materials, and food packaging. Global emissions could be reduced by more than 9 GtCO2e per year lower if these solutions were used to their full potential. Ulrich Schubert of EuCheMS provided the long-term vision of solar-driven chemistry, which would make direct use of sunlight to produce fuels from carbon dioxide in artificial photosynthesis plants. Before this vision is realised, such CO2 transformations will be built on electrolysis and energy needs to come from renewable electricity.
Alexis Bazzanella of ISC3 emphasized that these synthesis strategies, while constituting low-carbon production routes, are highly energy intensive. Implementation on large scale would demand a large proportion of available renewable power capacities. For real sustainable chemistry solutions a life-cycle approach for chemical processes and products is necessary, taking into account not only the energy and carbon footprint of the production route, but also the impact of chemical product function and corresponding energy and GHG savings during the product lifecycle. The product use phase in most cases dominates the carbon footprint. A holistic lifecycle thinking furthermore includes concepts for recyclability of the products and benign end-of-life solutions. Therefore, efficient value-chain collaboration is a prerequisite for the development of sustainable chemistry solutions.