Expert Statement: Thomas Wagner, GETEC
CO2-Neutral Chemical Industry - The Challenge of an Industry Transformation
Germany, as one of the major chemical manufacturing nations, has committed to achieve this goal by 2050. But companies need to translate this industry vision into their specific context.
System changes of the scale of CO2 neutrality for a whole industry sector require a new mindset. Major transformations command long lead times and require consistent and persistent follow-through. It is all but clear whether enough value is created to justify the huge investments and how new value generated is distributed among critical players and investors.
CHEManager asked executives and industry experts to share their opinions on this industry transformation, which is a multi-stakeholder challenge and comprises economical, technical, societal and political aspects. We proposed to discuss the following aspects:
- What is your strategy / timeline to become carbon neutral and what are the key challenges on the path to achieve this goal?
- What political / regulatory measures are needed to encourage companies to invest in carbon neutral technologies?
- What economical / societal benefits do you expect or hope for by decarbonizing your business?
- How do you plan to involve external stakeholders critical for achieving CO2 neutrality?
Thomas Wagner: Decarbonization is probably the strongest driver of transformation today. Only if every sector makes a significant contribution to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG), climate neutrality in 2050 according to the EU Green Deal will succeed. To achieve these goals, every industry must review its entire value chain.
The chemical industry is one of the main emitters of CO2. Therefore, a holistic view to tackle GHG is required. From sourcing of raw materials not only from oil and the improvement of processes for the incorporation of CO2 in products, to energy used and materials and gases recycled in order to get to net zero production.
This transformation comes at enormous speed with many new regulations in the introduction phase. On top of political and consequently regulatory framework, the capital markets require very clear and dedicated ESG strategies to commit to this transformation. Thus, a major focus of top management is needed, major investments, major knowledge and speed are necessary to tackle that challenge. This is when outsourcing is being considered by most chemical companies — when focus and resources needs to be on core processes. Therefore, a strong partner is required in order to manage speed and complexity.
In addition to the provision of highly efficient energy solutions, innovative energy service providers such as GETEC have developed further solutions for their chemical customers based on the Waste2Value approach. For example, in the thermal utilization of highly climate-damaging special gases such as nitrous oxide or vent gas out of production or storage. Or in the completely climate-neutral energy supply of Clariant‘s new production site in Romania. Here, Clariant produces bioethanol from wheat straw, while GETEC uses the residual lignin for the energy supply. Doubly innovative and sustainable.
These examples show, however, that the chemical industry should not only be considered in terms of its own scope, but also in terms of its additional climate-contribution as one of the main players. The entire future field of hydrogen synthesis, for example, will not work without according catalysts produced by the chemical industry. This is a more honest and holistic view of the chemical industry‘s contribution to CO2 reduction and it offers considerable opportunities.