Sustainability: Change is Coming in Chemicals - Jackson Hogg


Sustainability: Change is Coming in Chemicals

The idea of sustainability within the chemical sector has various aspects and has evolved significantly over recent decades. This has been in line with increasing awareness surrounding the topic of sustainability for ALL industries!

Sustainable chemistry encompasses the design, manufacture, and use of efficient, effective, safe and more environmentally benign chemical products and processes; Within the last 15 years, more awareness and recognition around the production of raw materials and where they come from has catapulted the focus of sustainability to the forefront when operating within the chemical sector.

So, what does sustainable chemistry look like?

  • Greener Technology
  • Utilisation of renewable resources
  • Minimising negative environmental impacts of chemical processing and manufacturing
  • Waste Prevention
  • Improving efficiency
  • Striving towards net zero

The importance of Green Chemistry for a Sustainable Development

There is certainly an overarching approach within sustainable chemistry hat incorporates green chemistry, ecology and sustainability. Managing methods of producing and manufacturing to reduce the impact of hazardous chemicals on the environment is vital for the overall welfare of our future generations.

Problematic Plastic

As we all know, the plastic problem is growing, and its real. We are witnessing plastic damaging and polluting our natural environment every single day. Many everyday items containing harmful plastic polymers makes it incredibly difficult to eliminate the material, however, as an industry it is crucial we keep utilising innovative, advanced materials to dilute the damaging effect of plastic.

There are many current restrictions and bans on single-use plastics that are being adopted across the United Stated and Europe. The signing of the United Nations Treaty to end plastic pollution is on track to occur by the end of 2024, with details to manage plastic circularity.

Additionally, the growth of bio-based feedstocks remains positive, and in March of last year, the Biden administration announced goals to displace 90% of plastics over the next 20 years by harnessing biotechnology and biomanufacturing. Despite being just goals, the targets certainly demonstrate administration heading in the right direction for future change. With technological advancements, improvements in knowledge and societal pressures regarding sustainability, these initiatives will have the power to accelerate in coming years!

What’s happening now?

Today, the bulk of modern society continues to depend on fossil fuel-based hydrocarbons to develop almost every chemical or material in the marketplace. Despite fossil fuels serving as the main source of energy, it is unlikely this approach has longevity well into the future. The method involves dependence on the combustion of fossil fuels which as we all know, produces carbon dioxide and other harmful waste solutions that pollute the atmosphere and can lead to significant damage on human health and the environment around us.

To add, we are seeing more and more evidence come to light to support the strong link between the rise of carbon dioxide solutions and the rapid rate of climate change and the warming atmosphere.

Because of this, engaging in sustainable practices NOW is crucial for not only future generations, but investment into the market and the success and growth of our industry.

On a positive, chemical companies in the US are investing more than ever in research and development towards sustainability compared to many other sectors. One major factor involved within the sustainability transition is the production and access to clean hydrogen. Green hydrogen can be produced through the electrolysis of water and uses electricity from renewable sources to limit CO2 emissions. Some of the companies making the most substantial investments into green hydrogen are Sinopec, Air Products & Chemicals and Linde. Some other companies are reducing their carbon footprints by investing in recycling practices; LyondellBasell and Reliance Industries both have developed their own catalytic processes for recycling plastics.

As all global industries are becoming more sustainable, we expect to see more companies within the chemical world reshape how they manage, manufacture and distribute their products.

However, the industry is also predicted to continue experiencing the challenges that persisted throughout 2023, such as the inconsistent economic growth, climate issues and inflation. In light of the low-growth environment, accelerating carbon-neutral management and strengthening global supply chains will likely top global focuses for the industry throughout 2024.

Reaching NET ZERO

Governments around the world are recognising the important element of a robust industrial policy in achieving net zero. World-wide global economies continue to work towards decarbonisation in 2024 and are switching to sustainable sources for energy and materials, with the chemical industry vital to addressing the net zero overall challenge. It’s becoming clear that decarbonizing the energy system and facilitating access to renewable sources and achieving net zero circular molecules/materials and chemicals is imperative.

The chemical sector is estimated to be responsible for 5% of global CO2 emissions.

However, challenges of reaching decarbonisation and net zero involves social, ecological, technical and economic factors all combined through a global effort.

Within The US

Numerous products and processes that many of us take for granted every day; such as clean drinking water, began breakthroughs in chemistry, and sustainability challenges have evidently grown more complex as Earths population is forever growing, and we strive to sustain the health and well-being everyone and the natural environment we live in.

The global commitment to create a cleaner, greener, safer and ultimately more sustainable future is especially positive; The US chemical industry can be more economically competitive and efficient on a global scale, as it cuts waste and reduces environmental impact, however, we will need continuous commitments from individuals, businesses and government to maintain a sustainable future for chemicals in the long term.

2023 – several chemical companies revised down their expectations and faced a sluggish demand for chemicals globally. The recession throughout Europe, and inflation in the US contributed to this and saw chemical output grow less than 1% in 2023. However, in the US, fears of an economic downturn have faded, and we are slowly but surely witnessing a change in chemicals for the better.

Are we on the right track?

Is the US chemical industry finally listening to masses and moving towards a greener future?

Slowly but surely!

We expect chemical companies to continue positioning themselves strategically for the high-tech, low-carbon future to dominate the market in the long term. It is important that companies support the increase in clean energy manufacturing needed to meet net-zero goals by 2050, which is expected to stimulate higher demand for specific chemicals and materials in the coming years.

On top of this, competition is expected to evolve with many of us in the chemical space re-thinking our long-term strategies. Additional shifts in talent requirements and clean electricity availability are expected to arise as technology continues to evolve and decarbonization efforts ramp up over the course of the year!


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