Chemical technology is vital for tackling the major societal challenges

Technological innovations are crucial for achieving the mission objectives of the four societal challenges “Energy transition and sustainability”, “Agriculture, water and food”, “Health and care”, “Security”. Chemical technology? That is where it effectively begins.

The chemistry sector is ideally positioned to support the top sectors in achieving the mission objectives. After all, chemistry produces many substances and materials that other industrial sectors use for manufacturing their products. So where chemistry becomes more sustainable, society becomes more sustainable too.

Take, for example, the developments in aromatics, such as benzene, toluene, xylene and phenol, which are used by the chemical industry for the production of plastics, chemicals and coatings. To date, these have been obtained from crude oil and are therefore responsible for significant CO2 emissions. That is why the chemical industry is now working on obtaining aromatics from plant waste. This will have a serious impact, because fossil-based aromatics account for no less than 40% of all chemical ingredients in the world. Far more can be said about how chemistry is being made more sustainable. For example, the use of resources such as biomass, processed waste and unravelled polymers. Then there are also electrochemical processes for the conversion of hydrogen, CO2, nitrogen or biomass into fuels and resources for the chemical sector.

And soft advanced materials should not be forgotten either. This chemical technology makes it possible to build materials from the molecular level upwards and to provide them with qualities such as safety, strength, lightness of weight, a longer durability and lower costs. All of that is done to reduce the CO2 footprint as much as possible. One application could be high-quality, fibre-reinforced thermoplastics as a plate material for superlight cars that consume less energy and produce fewer emissions. Another example is the chemical production of thermochromic coatings and foils for glazing that improve light reflection thus reducing the necessity for air-conditioning.

This same positive influence on industrial value chains assumes the safe design of existing and new chemical substances, materials, products and processes. Those can be (re)designed from the molecular level upwards so that highly alarming substances can be banished and emissions prevented. Then both people and the environment will no longer be exposed to toxic substances, and materials and products in a circular economy will be safe to reuse.

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