Text by Raija Polvinen, RDI Director, Kiilto / Chair of the Board, SusChem Finland
In the Finnish chemical industry, we share the motivating goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2045. Many companies have set ambitious targets to turn this goal into reality. Circulating materials, reducing waste, optimizing process efficiency, and recovering waste heat are examples of active areas of development. If you just stop and think about your operating models for a while, you may find ways of improving processes with surprisingly little effort.
“Moving to a sustainable lifestyle will require new materials and processes. Chemists have a fundamental role to play in this. What could be more motivating than working to save the world?”
What do we need to enable a more sustainable future? We need a circular economy. We need innovations. We need new materials based on fewer natural resources. We need more efficient production processes with advanced self-learning control technology, and new processes for circulating different materials in a smart and efficient way. Chemistry and digital technology lie at the heart of the innovations we are calling for. New materials and processes are needed in several fields of industry, as well as in the chemical industry itself. Practically all lifecycles will have to be redesigned to account for the full cycle. This means transforming virgin raw materials into products and, after their useful lives, recycling them back into raw materials usable in new products.
However, we need to begin with new value chains. Several companies have already recognised that they have a side stream which ends up as waste, but which might be a potentially valuable raw material for someone else. In many cases, these recycled raw materials require processing to become usable by another industrial partner. Highly common needs include drying and grinding, and sometimes sorting, but all the related side stream materials need someone to at least pick them up and transport them to their new user. Since these are not the core businesses of either the side stream producer, or the potential circular raw material user, this is clearly a potential avenue for developing new business.
In the very near future, we will need smart chemists and process technology experts to enable a genuine shift to a circular economy. Moving to a sustainable lifestyle will require new materials and processes. Chemists have a fundamental role to play in this. What could be more motivating than working to save the world? Would you like to be one of the superheroes involved?