Newsletter November 2017

Dear readers,

At COP23, experts and policy makers are meeting to develop implementation guidelines of the Paris agreement’s provisions. The ISC3 has been invited to provide its perspective on the role of sustainable chemistry in response to the global challenges. New solutions are required to combat climate change and its devastating effects, to provide sufficient food, housing, mobility and energy to everyone, while preserving natural habitats and the treasure of today’s biodiversity. Combined with the power of digital, sustainable chemistry has the potential to become a game changer for all industries. Not only by avoiding hazardous substances from the start, but by striving for better applications, higher re-use of resources, completely new business models and by moving entire supply chains towards circular economy models. Innovative solutions to combat climate change already originate in the chemical sector and its research and development community. Examples are the replacements for fossil fuels, energy storage systems and new construction and insulation materials.

Sustainable Chemistry brings a specific lens to chemistry as a solution provider for climate change and highlights innovations like carbon use and synthetic fuels. Through new formulations, better processes and safer molecules, Sustainable Chemistry supports and extends the SAICM process beyond 2020. As such, Sustainable Chemistry holds the promise of both significant emission reductions, and much improved environmental, health and safety performance in support of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

At the ISC3, we invite you to discover with us break-through innovation in chemistry, progress of major players, trends in policy making and sustainable solutions at work.  

Wishing you fun and inspiration in reading on.

Friedrich Barth

Managing Director ISC3

ISC3 @COP23 in Bonn: Climate Change, Climate Solutions and Sustainable Chemistry

ISC3-Side Event: "Sustainable Chemistry – a key to climate solutions"

Panel discussion with international speakers on Sustainable Chemistry

Sustainable Chemistry can play a vital role in preventing dangerous climate change – as participants learned at our Side Event at COP23 in Bonn. Two case studies of the startup “sunfire” and “Covestro” showed: The chemical industry can contribute to sustainable development with innovative and environmentally sound solutions. The event took place on 10th November and was hosted by the German Ministry of Environment, UN Environment and ISC3.

The replacements for fossil fuels, energy storage systems and new construction and insolation materials – in the chemicals sector, a transformation process has started to move towards more sustainable chemistry solutions and business models. Sustainable chemistry has recently gained international attention as a driving force to support implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. However, innovative solutions do not find their way easily to the markets or to wide implementation. In addition, they often do not match the needs of the climate community.

The high-level side event “Sustainable Chemistry – a key to climate solutions” hosted by Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB), UN Environment (UNEP) and International Sustainable Chemistry Collaborative Centre (ISC3) at COP23 addressed these issues that were discussed by participants from China, Mexico and UN bodies*. They highlighted a number of key points that included:

  • Sustainable chemistry was already making an important contribution. Advanced chemicals were being used, for example, in wind turbines, solar panels and building insulation to enhance performance.
  • Research on advanced technologies, such as turning CO2 into a feedstock for advanced materials or new sources of non-fossil fuel energy, was occurring in universities and business organisations around the world.
  • There was still huge potential to make further contributions to emissions reduction through, for example, use of chemicals and processes that increased energy, materials and product efficiency.

“We will not be able to reach our climate targets unless we produce and use chemicals in a sustainable way”. After the introduction of Jochen Flasbarth, State Secretary at Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety, two case studies of the startup “sunfire” and “Covestro” kicked off the side event. They showed promising contributions of sustainable chemistry to the mitigation of carbon dioxide emissions.

Afterwards a subsequent panel identified actions to facilitate market entry and global implementation of innovative climate solutions based on sustainable chemistry:  

  • Better processes, networks and institutions to develop, share and deploy knowledge on the many synergies between climate change solutions and Sustainable Chemistry.
  • Recognition of the different needs, capacities and resources at the national level. Early experience suggested that encouragement of an academic/business startups culture offered significant potential.
  • Encouraging Sustainable Chemistry thinking in all relevant climate change solutions discussions, and climate change in all Sustainable Chemistry thinking, such as at this year’s United Nations Environmental Assembly.
  • A positive investment environment that provided the necessary incentives to investors to bridge the lengthy gaps between promising laboratory concepts, demonstration projects and commercial deployment.

In his closing remarks, ISC3 Managing Director Friedrich Barth offered the view that governments and academia were often good at generating new scientific knowledge, but lacked the ability to realize its full commercial potential. Among the objectives of ISC3 in catalysing greater action in the application of Sustainable Chemistry to climate solutions, he said, would be to collaborate more closely with the business and finance sectors to explore new business models. Several speakers were expressing interest in working closely with ISC3 in advancing its mission.

More impressions from COP23

* Speakers and panelists:

Introduction: Jochen Flasbarth, State Secretary at Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety | Mark Radka, Head, Energy and Climate Branch, Economy Division, UN Environment

Case study „Covestro Dream Production – turning carbon dioxide into plastics“: Dr. Eric Bischof, Vice President Corporate Sustainability, Covestro AG

Case study „Sunfire – synthetic fuel from air“: Oliver Borm, Senior Product Manager Hydrogen, sunfire GmbH

Panelists: Achim Halpaap, Principal Officer and Senior Advisor Chemicals and Health Branch, Economy Division, UN Environment | Dr. Eric Bischof, Covestro AG | Pengcheng Fu, Professor at College of Life Sciences and Technology, Beijing University of Chemical Technology and Hainan University | Oliver Borm, sunfire GmbH

Résumé and way forward: Friedrich Barth, Managing Director ISC3

Moderator: Paul Hohnen

Covestro’s Dream Production: Carbon Dioxide is revolutionizing plastics production

CO2 as a new raw material: Covestro uses the waste gas to produce an important foam component in a new plant at its site in Dormagen, Germany; © Covestro

What sounded like a fairy tale for decades is now reality: Carbon dioxide can be turned into plastic; climate-damaging CO2 is becoming a valuable raw material. The best thing about it: The new method replaces much of the petroleum previously used to manufacture plastic.

Researchers around the world had been working in vain for years to make it possible. Now, this advancement can justifiably be called a revolution in industrial production. For Covestro, it is a big step towards a more sustainable future that makes the world a brighter place.

Totally rethinking sustainability: How a catalyst pushes boundaries

A nondescript, white powder is the catalyst that makes the chemical reaction with CO2 possible. Thanks to the catalyst, the inert carbon dioxide molecule can finally be put to practical use. Packed inside this powder are years of intensive research by Covestro and its partners – and the courage to think beyond existing boundaries.

For markets and consumers, it is no less than an ecological and economical revolution that will affect their entire world. CO2 will become a part of our everyday lives as a useful and sustainable raw material. Soon, the first mattresses and upholstered furniture made with the CO2-based foam are to come out on the market, made possible by the innovative force of Covestro.

And they’re just the beginning, because Covestro has a lot of other ideas for using this climate killer in products typical to modern life. One example is the first elastomers manufactured with CO2. They can be used, for instance, to fabricate seals and hoses for motor vehicles. 

More information about Covestro's Dream Production

Sunfire: Electricity-based feedstocks for cross-sectoral CO2 mitigation

Clean Products from e-Crude: e-Diesel, e-Naphtha and e-Waxes (left to right); © sunfire GmbH

Sunfire developed a process to produce a synthetic replacement for fossil feedstocks such as crude oil and natural gas using nothing but water, CO2 and renewable electricity – suitable for existing production processes and distribution networks.

Many areas in our economy, especially in the chemical sector, are dominated by fossil feedstocks such as crude oil or natural gas. Everyday products from fuels, sports shoes to cosmetics contain oil fractions such as waxes or utilize hydrogen and carbon-monoxide derived from natural gas.

Sunfire technologies enable a CO2-neutral alternative to manufacture these crucial feedstocks from renewable sources anywhere in the world where they can be fed directly into existing production processes. Sunfire can hereby contribute to decarbonisation efforts without any complex renewals or adjustments to the existing infrastructure.

The core element of Sunfire is the steam electrolysis process based on solid oxide technology (SOEC).Hydrogen produced from water (steam) and renewable electricity can be supplied directly to different industries to substitute hydrogen made from fossil sources. The electrolyser technology from Sunfire thereby reaches unmatched efficiencies of more than 80 %LHV.

Sunfire also developed a process to produce a crude oil substitute called e-Crude. e-Crude is made in a patented highly efficient power-to-liquid procedure employing nothing but water, CO2 and renewable electricity. Based on the SOEC technology Sunfire splits steam and carbon dioxide into its components hydrogen, carbon monoxide and oxygen. These gases are then subsequently synthesized into e-Crude.

Alternatively, this synthetic gas could also directly substitute hydrogen and carbon monoxides feedstocks in chemical processes that have previously been produced though usage of natural gas. The Sunfire technology therefore enables an efficient opportunity for cross-sectoral CO2-mitigation.

ISC3 discusses future-oriented chemistry @COP23

On 7th of November the side event at the EU pavilion discussed the role of chemistry in promoting the SDGs through a low-carbon economy.

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.

Partner News

How the European chemical industry could become carbon neutral by 2050

Sector integration is one important aspect for a carbon-neutral chemical industry; © DECHEMA/Mück (Giacomo Introzzi, Michael Rosskothen, Mesa Kaewsang –

The chemical industry’s ambition is to play a leading role in the transformation of the European economy to a low-carbon and circular one by creating innovative climate and energy friendly solutions for its own processes and for many other industries through chemical products. A report “Low carbon energy and feedstock for the European chemical industry” prepared by DECHEMA explores how the chemical industry can become carbon neutral by 2050.

The report, prepared by DECHEMA and released by the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic), analyses the technological options available and outlines the conditions necessary to facilitate the transition of the European chemical industry to carbon neutrality. Next to giving a first full overview of all available technologies for the main chemical production processes, it describes what is needed to refurbish the industrial base we know today in Europe, in a world full of shale gas and low oil prices. This includes abundant and cheap low-carbon electricity, the availability of alternative feedstocks (e.g. bio-based raw materials, CO2 or industrial waste gases), innovation and research into new chemical technologies, but also a favorable political and financial environment to stimulate investments.

The chemical industry has already halved its energy intensity and greenhouse gas emissions since 1990, but producing chemicals remains one of the most energy intensive industrial process. Making the sector carbon neutral while retaining its competitiveness in a full circular economy in Europe is a significant challenge, which cannot be solved by the industry on its own.

The study is available on the website of DECHEMA.

GC3 works to advance green chemistry across sectors and supply chains

GC3 was created in 2005 and has become a unique network

Despite increasing attention to the relationship between chemistry and climate change, the concept of green or sustainable chemistry is still a marginal, niche consideration in most chemistry education, research and development. The Green Chemistry & Commerce Council (GC3) wants to change this.

There is a clear connection between chemistry and climate change – from the non-renewable feedstocks that serve as the foundation for most of modern organic chemistry to the ways in which chemical impacts can be exacerbated by climate change. Unfortunately, despite increasing attention to the relationship between chemistry and climate change, the concept of green or sustainable chemistry is still a marginal, niche consideration in most chemistry education, research and development.

The Green Chemistry & Commerce Council (GC3) was created in 2005 and has become a unique and vibrant cross-sectoral, international, business-to-business network of companies and other organizations working collaboratively to advance green chemistry across sectors and supply chains. The GC3’s 120 members include leading large and small chemical manufacturers, consumer product companies/brands in many sectors, retailers; and service providers. GC3 members participate in collaborative projects aimed at overcoming barriers to innovation and scale of green chemistry solutions. To address a number of challenges to innovation in green and biobased chemistry, the GC3 launched its Green & Bio-Based Chemistry Startup Network in 2016 to support the growth of startups and accelerate the market adoption of innovative technologies. Together, these efforts aim to drive innovation that not only solves societal challenges, such as climate change, but also leads to the next generation of high performing sustainable chemicals, processes, materials and products.

Inside Practise: BASF SE

BASF SE: Climate protection in agriculture through innovative nitrogen management

With innovative nitrogen stabilizer technologies BASF helps to decrease the environmental impact; © BASF SE

Nitrogen is an important fertiliser in agriculture and the basis for all life on earth. Unfortunately significant amounts of nitrogen are lost every day, harming the environment, being a risk to groundwater bodies, biodiversity and to the atmosphere. BASF developed new technologies to reduce nitrogen losses, improving the environmental footprint of farming and helping farmers to achieve higher yields.

Nitrogen (N) is the growth engine of crops and an important production factor for the farmer. As a fertiliser it is applied in large quantities. Eurostat estimates that the total nitrogen used as agricultural fertilizer in Europe is 20,4 mio tonnes (t) N, of this 11,2 mio t are applied as mineral fertilizer and 9,2 mio t as manure from livestock production.

Nitrogen losses into the environment depend on several environmental factors and can only partly be controlled through good agricultural practice. Nitrogen can be lost into the atmosphere as ammonia (NH3) and nitrous oxide (N2O) as well as into deeper soil layers and water bodies as nitrate (NO3-). Such losses have the potential to harm the environment with several negative effects on biodiversity, human health and global warming. N2O is a potent greenhouse gas - its greenhouse gas potential being 300 times higher than the harmful potential of carbon dioxide. Furthermore the nitrogen losses reduce yields and income for farmers.

BASF developed new solutions to improve nitrogen-use-efficiency and thereby reducing the negative effects of nitrogen losses. BASF nitrogen management tools include the nitrogen stabilizer technologies – Limus® and Vizura® - which prevent nitrogen leaching, making more nitrogen available for the plant and helping to decrease negative environmental effects.

In particular, the management and application of slurry (liquid manure) is a challenging task for the farmer. It is estimated that during slurry application, 1% of the fertilised nitrogen is lost as greenhouse gas N2O. With the addition of Vizura to the slurry this loss can be reduced by 50% on average, which can be estimated as equivalent to a reduction potential of 21,7 mio t of CO2 per year in the European Union.

New technologies like nitrogen stabilisers offered by BASF are a powerful contribution by chemistry to sustainable agriculture, they offer new ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and help to improve the environmental footprint of farming.