How does Europe view the transition of the chemical industry?


If Chemelot is to be fit for the future, it requires collective, sustainable innovation. It is also important to implement processes that meet the needs of the site as a whole, as well as being in keeping with future developments in Europe. Björn Koopmans (Program Manager at Chemelot Circular Hub) gives his view on the developments in Europe in terms of making the chemical industry more sustainable. What can Brightsite do for Europe and vice versa?

Björn Koopmans, Program Manager at Chemelot Circular Hub:

“It is important to look for connections within the ARRRA region, and include citizens and businesses in the transition pathways that we outline.”

“Europe is very important if we are to achieve a sustainable, competitive chemical industry. Europe is decisive, in that Dutch laws and regulations are usually derived from European policy. Within this framework, Brightsite can explore the most effective way of realising the transition to renewable energy and raw materials”, says Koopmans, who specialises in European policy and in addition to being Program Manager at Chemelot Circular Hub, also heads up the Policy working group for the Green Chemistry, New Economy (GCNE) platform.

Transition is a hot topic

The transition to a CO2-neutral and fossil-fuel-neutral chemical industry is high on the European agenda but has yet to be written into legislation and regulations. “There is already a lot happening in this area and it is good that Brightsite is also talking about this. Renewable energy, plastic recycling, bio-based plastics, plastic packaging, sustainable product policy, but also empowering consumers and preventing greenwashing are key issues where change is afoot and policy work is under way. There is a whole list of subjects on which European policy needs to tie in with the transition taking place in the chemical industry and vice versa. For example, in order to get chemical and mechanical recycling off the ground, it is important for laws and regulations in this area to also get off the ground. This is the only way to prevent the incorrect use of waste and bio-based raw materials”, says Koopmans.

Tension between policy & transition

“We all want to move away from fossil fuels and towards the use of biomass, waste and CO2. It would be good for Brightsite to focus on waste, among other things. Here, upscaling from a manageable pilot to large volumes and commercial factories is a huge challenge. Agreements must be made in the Netherlands about how to obtain sufficient renewable raw materials. The same applies to energy. Dealing with scarcity and helping to deploy the correct routes to deal with it in the best possible way is an area where Brightsite has particularly strengths. It’s a difficult balance for policymakers. The limited volume of raw materials and energy can only be used once. Careful consideration must be given to what goes to which sector and policy must be designed accordingly. I am enthusiastic about the CIMS and SCIAR models that you have developed as part of Brightsite’s program line 5 to explore the transition pathways. I will be presenting these models in Europe; the effects of policy can be mapped out using models”, emphasises Koopmans.

“In Limburg, it is great to see Brightsite connecting with Chemelot Circular Hub and other initiatives.”

We must do it together

“We need to get to work now if we are to achieve the climate objectives. It is important that everyone within the chemical industry is on the same page. Chemelot, and indeed the Netherlands, cannot do this alone. In Limburg, it’s great to see Brightsite connecting with the Chemelot Circular Hub and initiatives within it, such as Brightlands Circular Space as well as beyond it, with the Green Chemistry, New Economy platform. In addition, it is important to look for connections within the ARRRA region (Antwerp-Rotterdam-Rhine-Ruhr-Area). And include citizens and businesses in the transition pathways that we outline”, stresses Koopmans.

“Europe is important for Brightsite in terms of the legislation and regulations and in turn, Brightsite can be important for Europe by providing the relevant input to enable the transition of the chemical industry. It is crucial to come up with proposals and ideas from the industry. At Brightsite, you have insight into both existing and innovative, disruptive technologies. The transition will be made up of intermediate steps. We need to keep an open mind, rather than focus on one single technology. And Brightsite is well aware of this”, concludes Koopmans.

The New Circular Economy Action Plan (March 2020): the basis of legislative and non-legislative initiatives on circularity in the EU.

The GCNE platform is currently focused on end-of-waste status. European legislation that must contribute to increased recycling of plastics and use of recyclate:

  • Revised Waste Framework Directive (focus on food waste and textiles)
  • Revised directive on packaging and packaging waste
  • Revised regulation on shipments of waste

In addition, other regulations are being drafted that are important for the playing field of the circular chemical industry:

  • Revised directive on renewable energy: more stringent sustainability requirements for biofuels (important for the business case on biogenic raw materials for the chemical industry)
  • Regulation establishing a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism: against relocation of carbon-intensive industry outside the EU (not yet applicable to the chemicals industry from 2023, but will be by 2026)

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