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Monday, 30 September 2013

Sustainable Chemistry Vital for Raw Material Strategy Success

On 26 September 2013, the High Level Steering Group of the European Innovation Partnership (EIP) on Raw Materials issued its Strategic Implementation Plan (SIP) describing how the European Union can act to ensure a sustainable supply of critical raw materials to Europe and make the EU a world leader in raw materials exploration, extraction, processing, recycling and substitution by 2020. 

From the very beginning, SusChem and Cefic have been closely engaged in the preparation of the EIP and the SIP, and the chemical sector has a clear role to play in ensuring the success of Europe’s Raw Materials strategy.

The SIP outlines detailed actions which the parties involved (EU member states, companies, researchers and NGOs) can use to enable technological and non-technological innovation in the raw materials value chain, both in Europe and in the international arena.

These actions include a wide range of initiatives such as new cost-effective exploration concepts and technologies, better recovery and recycling of demolition waste and finding substitutes for critical raw materials such as the indium used, for example, in touch screen technologies.

European Commission Vice-President Antonio Tajani (left), responsible for Industry and Entrepreneurship, is leader of the High Level Steering Group and commented:

"Innovation in raw materials – be it in mining, processing, recycling, or substitution – holds the key to future growth and jobs. With today's proposal we underline that Europe is capable of addressing these important challenges, drawing on our innovative EU research capabilities, as bolstered by Horizon 2020. This will help our industry both create jobs and protect the environment."

Chemical sector
The Chemical industry welcomes the reference in the SIP to some critical raw material of particular interest for the sector, such as phosphate ore and olefins, which could have significant impact on the economics of competitiveness along the whole value chain.

The chemical sector is one of the identified mega-sectors in the European industrial landscape with a large impact in the value chain. The sector’s competitiveness relies on the availability of competitive raw materials for the production of chemical products that are used later in the production of cars, buildings, packaging materials, electric and electronic equipment, photovoltaic cells, and many others.

“There are a very large number of opportunities for cooperation with other sectors included in the EIP,” says Antonia Morales- Perez (right), Innovation Manager at Cefic and SusChem’s coordinator for raw materials work. “Raw material sectors such as minerals and metals, wood and natural rubber, are where the chemical sector can contribute with new technologies and products to improve the performance of activities such as extraction, processing/refining and recycling while reducing the environmental impact."

The future solutions to the current challenges in this area will clearly come out of collaboration between different sectors using their resources and synergies in the most efficient way.

The second technology pillar of the EIP, Substitution of critical and scarce raw materials, opens opportunities for new materials development where, again, the chemical sector can be a key player.

“New materials for applications where the currently used critical raw materials can be substituted will have a double benefit,” explains Antonia. “First substitution will reduce the dependency on critical raw materials for these applications and, in consequence, release availability of the critical raw materials for other applications where substitution is not technically or economically possible.”

The FP7 project CRM-InnoNet (in which Cefic is a partner) will identify and prioritise which are the critical raw materials and the applications that can be more feasibly substituted. The focus for the project is mainly in the Energy, Transport and ICT sectors, but other applications such as catalysis are also being analysed.

“The scope of this project links directly to the second pillar of the EIP,” says Antonia.

The chemical sector also welcomes the SIP objectives to revise selected legislation and policy dialogues, these will help to remove barriers to innovation and support the competitiveness of the European industry.

Cefic has also been invited to participate in the Ad-hoc Group that will be revising the EU’s list of critical raw materials. The new version of the list should be published during the first quarter of 2014.

Get involved
A public Call for Commitments to be issued at the end of October 2013 will allow all potential stakeholders to express their intention to contribute to the implementation of the SIP. A Communication will follow in 2014, to explain how the European Commission, Member States, industry and academia intend to implement the SIP.

SusChem stakeholders that are interested in participating are invited to contact Antonia for more information and to coordinate input to SIP implementation.

Concrete targets of the SIP include the launch of up to ten pilot projects to promote technologies for the production of primary and secondary raw materials, to find substitutes for at least three applications of critical and scarce raw materials as well as to create better framework conditions for raw materials in Europe. The SIP also lists actions to improve Europe's waste management framework conditions and excellence, and to reinforce EU knowledge, skills and raw materials flows; by developing an EU Raw Materials Knowledge Base and potentially setting up a European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) Knowledge and Innovation Community (KIC).

It is important that we move from today’s linear economy, where we mine, manufacture, use and throw away, towards a more "circular economy", where one industry's waste becomes another's raw material. The EIP will play an important role in achieving this transition.

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