At Chemelot, the quest for sustainability and circularity is not just an abstract goal but a tangible commitment. The site strives to be fully circular chemistry site by 2050. Individuals like Céline Fellay, Program Manager Transition Scenarios and System Integration and Paul Brandts, Intelligence Officer at Brightsite, are at the forefront of this transformative journey and have been working hard in recent months, in collaboration with the Brightsite Program Managers, on the second Brightsite Transition Outlook. Céline and Paul give more insight into its creation.
Modeling the future
Céline and the CIMS modelling team played a significant role in the background work for the BTO, particularly focusing on the modeling aspect. “We began preparing the scenarios and cases towards the end of last year and initiated the modeling work,” she explains. “The first results emerged earlier this year. We developed cases and examples to illustrate the situation and generate awareness.” Paul Brandts: ”By raising awareness, presenting facts, and making science-based choices, the BTO supports the necessary transition towards climate neutrality.”
Paul Brandts, Intelligence Officer at Brightsite:
“BTO acts as a catalyst for change, bridging the gap between research output and its practical implementation in the outside world.”
Paul underlines that the current trajectory of our society, built upon a fossil fuel-based system, is leading us towards the destruction of the very foundation of our prosperity. Ongoing global warming and its associated climate changes pose significant threats, including destabilization on a global scale. However, the urgency of these issues is not widely felt by the general public. “We have limited time, approximately 25 years, to make a substantial difference and mitigate the worst impacts of climate change,” he explains.
Céline stresses that the transition of raw materials is a topic that affects everyone. “While there is a lot of attention on energy transition, people often overlook the importance of raw materials for the chemical industry. Plastics often receive negative attention, but they significantly contribute to our quality of life. With the BTO, we aim to demonstrate that we can produce these materials sustainably. However, if all resources would be allocated to the energy sector, there will be a scarcity of resources for the chemical industry. That’s why I feel the urgency to advocate for a systemic approach and the need for guidelines and incentives at a higher level in the Netherlands or Europe. We can allocate resources better and more efficiently and consider the overall impact.”
Spreading the vision
Céline highlights that although BTO 2023 primarily focuses on the Netherlands, she strongly believes that the portrayed issue has global implications as well. “While Brightsite’s impact alone may be limited, our goal is to create awareness and encourage others to share the vision.”
Céline Fellay, Program Manager Transition Scenario’s and System Integration:
“Our analysis is valid for numerous sectors and countries in Europe, where energy efficiency is crucial. By sharing insights we can make a far greater impact.”
Paul adds that it is important to explain these complex issues to policymakers, emphasizing the necessity of transitioning towards climate neutrality. Paul: “The chemical industry, in particular, plays a critical role in the broader system. It can provide solutions and has connections to surrounding countries and the European Union. Effective communication, awareness, and fact-based decision-making are essential components in driving sustainable change.”
“That’s also why our communication about this new BTO involves engaging with industry tables across different regions in the Netherlands,” Céline states. “Instead of delivering lectures, we initiate dialogues to gather input and understand the challenges faced by various sectors. This exchange of knowledge allows us to gain further insights and promote the transition collectively.”
Policy support for circular chemistry
According to Céline, one of the critical takeaways from the BTO is the need to focus on carbon as an essential component in the transition of raw materials for chemistry. “Carbon is irreplaceable for many products necessary for our lives,” she posits. “To step away from fossil fuels, we must switch to carbon from alternative sources. There are three: waste, biomass or air (CO2). The preferred option is utilizing waste as it allows us to keep carbon in a circular loop, reducing the demand for virgin resources. Additionally, we require supportive policies to make circularity feasible. Biomass as a feedstock, if sustainable, also offers additional options, e.g. biopolymers-on-demand for key applications. And using CO2 from the air is very energy-intensive and requires a lot of green electricity. BTO 2023 anticipates scarcity of renewable resources, and emphasises the need for resource development and conscious allocation of alternative resources. By providing guidance during this transition, we can ensure efficient resource utilization where there are no better alternatives.”
Paul highlights the need for a paradigm shift in our approach to emissions and waste management. Paul: “Currently, in the Netherlands, there is steering on mainly territorial CO2 emissions: a key aspect where many efforts are being made. In terms of circularity, however, the current thinking still largely corresponds to a linear economic system, a fossil system. It works to some extent to neatly classify all emissions into scope 1, scope 2 and scope 3. With scope 3, you can look upstream, including what happens outside the Netherlands, and downstream to the end-of-life of plastic products, for example. But downstream no longer works if you want to move towards a circular system. After all: new factories will prevent those end-of-life emissions: so those big scope 3 end-of-life emissions will not happen, and what’s more, you save fossil scope 3 emissions upstream, in oil extraction. Suppose a quantity of fossil plastic has already been recycled three times: do we continue to call that same quantity of plastic fossil with Scope 3 end-of-life emissions? Or look at it in retrospect: would we have taxed that same quantity of plastic three times fossil, when it has already avoided fossil emissions and other resource use three times? On the contrary; I would say: rewarding circular solutions and recognizing the value of waste as a renewable resource are missing, but crucial steps to be taken by government in promoting a circular economy.
Towards a sustainable future
“Right now, our society seems to become more and more dependent on foreign sources,” Paul concludes. “We’ve seen the consequences of this during the conflict in Ukraine. The world hasn’t become a more stable place as a result, so it’s crucial to carefully consider everyone’s role and actions in this regard. Personally, I believe it’s important to safeguard our strategic interests. This means that in addition to reliable imports, whatever they may be, I also advocate that the Netherlands develop its own resources and, for the design of future society, make well-thought-out, fact-based, and transparent decisions that are understandable to everyone. It’s about envisioning how we want to be in 2050 and ensuring a secure future and broad prosperity .”
“The human race is already behind schedule in achieving its sustainability goals,” Céline stresses. “It is crucial to adopt a systemic approach and view the energy and chemical transition as one interconnected system. We need to operate from a holistic, integral perspective that transcends individual industries and borders.”