In order to create products, there is a minimum energy expenditure requirement that will always exist, regardless of process efficiency.

One of the ways that the sector is attempting to counterbalance even this reduced energy spend is by ensuring it extracts full value from the energy it uses. Essentially, the petrochemical sector is continuing to pursue one of its core strategies of “doing more with less” and one way is by operating closed-loop value chains which means that a by-product from one process becomes the raw material for another.

Closed-loop industry typically works in a number of ways, for example:

  • The waste from a process is simply re-used and there is no need for processing or modification prior to its re-use.
  • The material might need to be recycled or reprocessed, but once it has been modified, it can be used for the same purpose, for example, plastic bottles.
  • Recovered material is modified and reused in an entirely different process.
  • The closed-loop system has a number of benefits such as reducing the amount of ‘new’ raw material required and facilitating waste disposal by turning waste into a useable material.

Process efficiency not only makes good environmental sense, but also economic sense.  For the EU petrochemical industry to be in a position to compete with other regions, it will need to continue to refine its production processes to ensure optimisation of efficiency in energy use.  Regions outside Europe have an advantage as they benefit from lower feedstock and energy prices in turn making it easier for petrochemical producers to offer more competitive pricing for their products.  The European petrochemical sector can only partially claw back savings through increased efficiency and is required to urgently continue its investment in innovating enhanced energy efficiency measures.

Building on the success of Spice3 originally launched in December 2013, Cefic announced in January 2016 a fresh investment round to support this innovative Spice3 project to help European chemical companies improve their energy efficiency.  Spice3 was the largest ever multilingual online platform for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to enable energy efficiency effort to flourish from the bottom up.

Enabling innovation in energy efficiency

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.

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 2017 report, heating and cooling in buildings and industry account for approximately 40% of final energy consumption — which is a larger share than transportation (27%). Stemming the loss of energy in the building sector remains a high priority.