Monday, 21 October 2013

SusChem: real innovation for growth

One of the highlights of the Knowledge4Innovation (K4I) Fifth European Innovation Summit held at the beginning of October was the Cefic and SusChem organised lunchtime debate on Innovation for Growth. Entitled ‘Think Big, Think Possible, Think Tomorrow’ the session explored what sustainable chemical innovation can bring featuring the SPIRE public private partnership (PPP) and novel concepts to exploit an untapped European resources: carbon dioxide (CO2).

The host of the session was Edit Herczog, MEP and K4I Governing Board Member. She opened the session saying: “That change is important for Europe and that we cannot talk about change without talking about chemistry: this is a key enabler for change across so many sectors.”

Dr Klaus Sommer of Bayer Technology Services and Chairman of A.SPIRE described the proposed PPP. He stressed that SPIRE represented a very large part of EU industry and would enable a focus on areas where Europe has real globally competitive strength.

An important element of SPIRE’s proposed programme will be demonstration activities and the initiative was attracting a lot of attention in the process community across Europe. Large-scale collaboration between competitor companies would be a feature of SPIRE’s programme. He did not see that this would be a problem due to the success of SusChem FP7 project: The F3 Factory.

In this €30 million initiative competitors had united around a single project and also the infrastructure for the project had been enabled through a German regional PPP. Some of the results from this project included reduction in capital expenditure of up to 40% for processes and production operation costs reduced by up to 20%.

SPIRE commitment
The SPIRE PPP was a commitment for open innovation he said and the financial input from industry would beat least € 200million industry per annum. “This is really about ‘Thinking Big’ and thinking what is possible,” he said. “The SPIRE roadmap is only the beginning – we need to achieve projects and we are ready to go!”

Rudolf Strohmeier, Deputy Director-General of DG Research and Innovation at the European Commission said that for growth “research and innovation are not sufficient by themselves. There was also a need for a market and the need for strong collaboration between public and private partners.”

He said that PPPs can make the research and innovation cycle more efficient. He felt that the chemical industry was uniquely positioned as it represents the economic roots of the EU and that SPIRE includes key parts of the manufacturing base in Europe and therefore was key to enabling progress in resource efficiency. He also saw CO2 as a potentially interesting feedstock. He concluded by saying that the Commission was ready to support SPIRE.

CO2 for Growth
The final presentation was by Prof Gabriele Centi from the University of Messina, who gave a technical overview of the potential of CO2 as a feedstock. He said that “CO2 is neither a polluter nor a waste” and that it could be “a raw material that enabled change for society.”

He sees CO2 as a valuable carbon source and a key element to realise energy and resource efficiency and introduce new renewable energy concepts. The carbon-based economy would provide a new scenario for sustainable chemicals production that integrated biomass and CO2 as feedstocks for a “new chemistry for the future”.

Prof Centi described a variety of CO2 using processes that were already developed or would be in the short to medium term. He also looked at a long term vision of developing artificial leaves that would remove ambient CO2 foe the air to make fuel or materials.

The (re)use of CO2 could be a massive opportunity for Europe he concluded. It could exploit a currently untapped resource and contribute to reducing GHG emissions and be a major driver of innovation and growth.

Earlier Jos Keurentjes of Akzo Nobel described some of the smart and green chemistry that was being used and developed at his company. The main focus was on areas such as energy and resource efficiency, products and services based on renewable and biobased raw materials, and looking at how to close loops in materials supply through recycling and reuse. He saw the use of CO2 as potential feedstock for a variety of processes (see image above). He concluded by emphasising that: “Speeding up growth is about value chain innovation.”

Don’t bury CO2
In questions at the end of the session Gernot Klotz of Cefic said that the concept of a ‘CO2 economy’ was a big beast that required vision.

Paraphrasing Shakespeare he said: “I come here to praise CO2, not to bury it.” Utilisation of CO2 as a feedstock will be part of the SPIRE project portfolio, but there needs to be a discussion about where it might be placed within the Horizon 2020 programme.

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