Pierre Barthélemy: “The chemical industry has to reinvent its feedstock and energy mix, and in fact reinvent itself.”

28-06-2020 | P2Integrate

Pierre Barthélemy: “The chemical industry has to reinvent its feedstock and energy mix, and in fact reinvent itself.”As the Executive Director of Research and Innovation at the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic), Pierre Barthélemy is strongly involved with the industry's efforts to lower the carbon footprint and contribute to a sustainable future. In his view, shared innovation programs such as VoltaChem are not only relevant for the chemical industry itself, but for all of the European economy.

Pierre Barthélemy has been the Executive Director of Research and Innovation at the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) since 2014. Before that, he worked for many years at Solvay in various R&D, management, and senior leadership roles.

Barthélemy, one of the keynote speakers at VoltaChem’s 2019 Annual Event on recarbonizing the chemical industry, underpins the huge relevance of the chemical sector for economy and society, and its responsibility in areas such as climate neutrality, public health and the environment. Considering the overarching themes in EU policy, in particular the Green Deal, according to Barthélemy the chemical industry can make major contributions to 

  • achieving net neutral CO2 emissions in 2050;
  • leaning to the zero pollution ambition; and
  • developing a future chemicals strategy. 

This, however, is easier said than done: "It all boils down to the fact that the chemical industry has to reinvent its feedstock and energy mix, and in fact reinvent itself."

Just one investment cycle

Barthélemy acknowledges that he is in a way "speaking from the Brussels bubble", but working on a daily basis with all Cefic members, he is fully aware of the pressing reality for the chemical industry with respect to the climate transition. "The fact is, there just isn't much time. It might take a decade to really set the transition in motion and demonstrate the necessary technologies at scale. That leaves us probably just one investment cycle to make sure changes are really implemented to achieve the 2050 objectives. The next decade is critical for research and innovation so that large-scale deployment of the new technologies can happen, starting around 2030/2035 at the latest. This is why shared  innovation programs such as VoltaChem are so important. They help to make the right choices and speed up our contribution to a more sustainable European economy."

Although the European Green Deal targets are quite ambitious, Barthélemy is pleased that there is a general understanding – also at the EU level – of the need for supporting an ambitious innovation agenda for the chemical industry. "The feeling at Cefic is that we are really going to roll up our sleeves."

As an example, Barthélemy mentions the PHOENIX initiative, an umbrella initiative linking national and European RD&I activities with respect to CO2 valorization, to ensure an optimal use of public funding and private investment. It is a collaboration between France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Cefic. The initiative aims to foster the transition to a low carbon economy by developing fuels and building blocks built on CO2.

"It will be really tough to get away from fossil carbon"

In its vision report: 'Molecule Managers', presented mid-2019, Cefic already underpinned how chemistry is at the centre of the technological disruption that will lead the world (or at least the continent) towards sustainability and climate neutrality in 2050. A few examples in the field of sustainable carbon are

  • Chemical recycling of plastics (large scale demonstration) 2020-2022
  • CO2 as feedstock for polymers (commercial scale) 2020-2025
  • Widespread, large-scale valorization of biowaste 2020-2025
  • Steel mill flue gas valorization for chemicals 2020-2025
  • CO2 valorization with low carbon H2 (large-scale demonstration) 2025-2030
  • Large-scale demonstration of alternative routes to H2 2025-2030

Notwithstanding these 'flagship' efforts, Barthélemy is aware that "it will be really tough to get away from fossil carbon." Introducing large-scale CO2 utilization is promising but quite challenging, he said, referring to a 2016 Dechema technology study that provided quantitative data. It lists promising low carbon technologies, estimates the potential impact regarding reduction of CO2 emissions, and provides an inventory of technological and financial limitations and barriers. 

To summarize, Barthélemy says, "there are great opportunities to achieve CO2 emissions reductions, to shift towards low-carbon power and to develop alternative feedstock based on CO2, biomass and wastes. But, of course, the required investments are huge. We are talking 17-19 billion euros per year in intermediate to ambitious scenarios." He adds that in the current situation, where the corona pandemic is shaking the economy like rarely seen before, public-private cooperation will be crucial: "Public authorities and the private sector need to work together to design a recovery plan that is compatible with the ambitious sustainability agenda.  Prominent voices in Brussels already support this direction and as a key stakeholder, the chemical sector will play its part." 

About Pierre Barthélemy

Pierre Barthélemy

Pierre Barthélemy is the Executive Director of Research and Innovation at the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) since 2014. Before that, he worked for many years at Solvay in various R&D, management, and senior leadership roles.

 

 


Do you want to learn more about VoltaChem's strategy in renewable carbon? Please contact our business developers Willem Frens (Power-2-Chemicals/Commodities) and Reinier Grimbergen (Power-to-Chemicals/Specialties).

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