The report suggests five different approaches to achieve a circular chemical sector. The first one, “substituting raw materials” has limitations due to the low energy intensity of biomass compared to fossil fuels. Replacing fossil fuels by biomass in the chemical sector “would require the full harvest of material from more than 238,000 km² of land—an area larger than Romania and representing as much as 14 percent of the total area utilized for agriculture in the European Union today.” The other options are increased re-use of end-user products, mechanical recycling (re-using existing materials without modifying their chemical bonds, chemical recycling (modifying chemical bonds to recover hydrocarbons), energy recovery and carbon utilization. None of these approaches is of course a “silver bullet” and a mix of different approaches will probably be needed. It will also depend on how the technologies evolve.

The report shows that the chemical is an enabler for circular economy through, for instance, in the transportation and housing sectors, reducing emissions, increasing efficiency, enhancing recyclability and reusability etc. In any case, moving to a circular economy will take time: if 20% of the European chemical industry’s capital spending was devoted to circular economy, it would take 35 to 60 years. The circular economy also represents a business opportunity for the chemical industry

For further information, please read the summary of the Accenture report and the press release of Cefic.