The world needs chemistry now more than ever. Far from being a drain on society, the chemical industry is best placed to understand what needs to be done to create a sustainable world and, more importantly, it knows how to achieve it. So far 11 countries have signed up to SusChem Europe. Switzerland is next. And INEOS – a company that thrives on finding innovative solutions to challenging problems – is in the driving seat.
The Fukushima nuclear disaster – triggered by an earthquake and a massive tsunami in Japan in March 2011 – sent shockwaves around the world.
Germany shut down eight of its reactors, Italy voted overwhelmingly to keep their country nuclear free and Spain banned the construction of new reactors.
There was a similar reaction in Switzerland, which actually was the first country in Europe to announce plans to phase out nuclear power in the wake of the crisis in Japan.
In its place, the Federal Council and Parliament laid the foundations for a new strategy for Swiss energy to 2050.
Initially Switzerland will have to rely on imported energy and electricity, which will increase its carbon footprint and presents a huge political and economic challenge.
But that bold decision has also created a real opportunity – and incentive – for Switzerland to use energy more responsibly and upgrade the use of carbon – as a feedstock rather than a fuel.
In November SusChem Switzerland will be launched at an Ecochem gathering of the world’s most influential industry and government leaders, scientists and innovators in Basel.
And the timing of this INEOS-driven initiative could not be better.
“INEOS has been one of the key companies behind SusChem Switzerland right from the start,” said Greet Van Eetvelde, chairman of SusChem Switzerland.
Its aims will be to find ways of cutting carbon emissions, reducing energy consumption, managing resources effectively, handling waste and developing clean technologies.
“Industrial symbiosis will be a key focus,” said Greet.
“To make things happen, different industry sectors will need to find new ways of working together to build a shared vision for the future that benefits all.”
Greet, who works for INEOS Europe, said process industry produced a lot of waste heat that could easily be re-used onsite, by other industries or even in neighbouring communities.
“That’s the future,” she said. “And it is a win-win situation for all parties. One industry may have a question; another the answer. We will act as the glue in between.”
Today INEOS works closely with the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) to create energy integration and optimisation on the INEOS production sites.
Last year INEOS also agreed to financially support innovative and entrepreneurial projects involving the EPFL researchers until 2022.
Greet said, “She hoped the ‘INEOS Innogrant’ would support some fascinating laboratory research, especially in the field of green chemistry.” The first ‘INEOS Innogrant’ will be awarded at the SusChem conference to Imperix, a young company that has been tackling power grid stability.
Energy production, management and storage, as well as CO2 capture and utilisation, will also be researched at the EPFL Valais Wallis campus in the Swiss canton of Valais.
One study has been focusing on whether Switzerland could take advantage of its glaciers, which are melting at an alarming rate due to rising temperatures.
When glaciers meet, new lakes are formed. But the study explored whether these natural reservoirs could in fact help to boost hydroelectric power production.
So far 11 countries, including Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, and the UK, currently have their own SusChem National Technology Platforms. Switzerland – thanks to a push from INEOS – will be the 12th.
The Swiss initiative will be launched at the three-day Ecochem conference, which will see the brightest sparks from across the chemical industry and value chains gathered in one place with one aim: to speed up ‘green chemistry’.
This network of national technology platforms are all linked to SusChem Europe – The European Technology Platform for Sustainable Chemistry, which was launched as a joint initiative between The European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) and others in 2004.
Far from being a ‘talking shop’, it has become a force for good and is now formally recognised by the European Commission.
Over the years SusChem has helped to develop advanced materials and process technologies that have led to a more efficient use of energy, feedstock and water.
And It is now very much at the heart of the European Union’s growth strategy and also ‘Horizon 2020’, a new Research and Innovation Framework program due to be launched next year to tackle climate change, energy and food security, health and the ageing population.
In short, the European Commission believes the European chemical industry has a pivotal role to play in creating a better future for us all.
SusChem Switzerland will be building on SusChem Europe’s vision and mission to create an even more competitive and innovative Europe where sustainable chemistry provides solutions for future generations.
“INEOS knows it can help,” said Greet.
For INEOS, which moved its headquarters to Rolle in 2010, its involvement also gives the company a chance to play a bigger part in shaping Switzerland’s future, while at the same time increasing its own presence.
Cefic said it was delighted at INEOS’ decision to become a key player in SusChem Switzerland.
“Switzerland is an important manufacturing hub for Europe, both in base chemicals and fine chemicals for active ingredients for health and many more,” said Esther Agyeman-Budu, Cefic’s communication counsellor for research and innovation.
“Companies, like INEOS, which has more ‘know how’ on the production side are needed to rejuvenate manufacturing. With our limited resources, we need to ensure that our resources are maximized, in terms of the value they bring to society.”