Creating innovative products that enhance performance and save energy
The EU petrochemical sector has made important strides in reducing both emissions and its use of energy owing to improvements in manufacturing processes and enhanced product performance.
Without continuous technological innovation, further energy savings will become increasingly difficult to attain. While petrochemical producers have made huge progress in energy reduction, they have almost reached a physical limit where any further reduction would not be of the same proportions as that already achieved. To continue the momentum of energy savings, the petrochemical sector is focusing on creating products with enhanced performance which in turn reduce energy consumption during their lifetime. Such examples include: Insulation in construction; lightweight plastics used in cars and transportation; solar panels; wind mills and water purification systems among many others.
Case study: Stemming the energy loss in the building sector
Within the EU, heating causes approximately 14% of GHG emissions as up to 75% of the heat inside a building escapes through poorly insulated external walls. This is not only a challenge on a European scale, but is in fact a global issue as according to the International Energy Agency’s Energy Technology Perspectives 2012 report, the building sector is directly and indirectly responsible for approximately 32% of global energy consumption and around 26% of global total end use energy-related carbon dioxide emissions. Stemming the loss of energy in the building sector remains a high priority.
It is for precisely this challenge that BASF has created a product called Neopor®. BASF’s new material makes the insulating performance of an insulation foam 50% more effective, resulting in only half the material thickness required for a given insulating performance. The Neopor infrared absorbers considerably reduce thermal conductivity and the permeability of the material with regard to heat is lower than in normal insulating boards. This has the potential to save many tons of emissions and substantially reduce energy use.
Enabling the development of sustainable societies
Society today faces substantial challenges associated with ageing populations, provision of healthcare, access to sustainable food and clean water. As the population increases, more and more demands will be placed on the provision of such services and resources. This will create great competition for natural resources that have been used to date, as if there were infinite supply. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development estimates that by 2050, a four to tenfold increase in resource efficiency will be required. This challenge is not only a resource challenge, but a societal one, as key elements of society (technological developments, healthcare, environment) all depend on the availability and use of such resources. Society will rely increasingly on base organic chemicals which constitute the building blocks of our modern society and the petrochemical industry will make substantial contributions to fulfilling society’s needs. Chemical innovation will be critical in order to make these precious resources stretch further, create new applications and to ensure we extract the greatest value possible.
Around three quarters of Europe’s population live in cities and these cities consume over 80% of the energy supply. By 2020 EU cities have been tasked with reducing their CO2 emissions by 20%, increasing their renewable energy use by 20% and increasing energy efficiency by 20%.
The current model is environmentally unsustainable and Europe needs to move towards developing ‘Smart Cities’ where energy consumption is greatly reduced, solutions to inner city mobility problems are identified, and the general standard of living is increased. Cities must therefore invest in and adopt low carbon technologies and solutions.
However this is not just for future developments. One of the biggest challenges is adapting the existing housing and transportation networks and this will require substantial investment in new technologies to make them more environmentally friendly. The development of new concepts and new materials is urgently required and the petrochemical sector is at the heart of innovating products such as new foams, nano-foams, aerogels and advanced films, sealants and adhesives for easy application in environmental technologies.
In an interview with global information provider Platts, Dorothee Arns talks about the strengths and weaknesses of the petrochemicals industry in Europe. Listen here to the Platts Petrochemicals Focus (February 2015).
In a booklet released in November 2014 on "Innovation: Managing risk, not avoiding it" for the UK Government Office for Science, the authors address 3 main topics:
- Innovation is essential for economic growth, health, wellbeing, security and resilience
- Background against which innovators are operating in the 21st century: global population growth, continuing climate and environmental change and large socio-economic shifts.
- The difficult task of designing systems of regulation and practice that are based on rigorous evidence and well-informed public debate.