Optimistic outlook at Cefic chemical convention despite current weak conditions

Author: Morgan Condon


HELSINKI (ICIS)--Despite a backdrop of economic tension and fractious global trade relations, a look at how chemistry will improve the world in the future was presented at the closing speeches of the European chemistry council (Cefic) annual Chemical Convention on Friday.

Source: Cefic

Among issues discussed was how Europe can work toward sustainability, with the EU Commission’s vice president for jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness Jyrki Katainen.

“Let’s get this straight -  the European Commission has not staged a war against plastics. Plastics render essential service to people. Plastics materials into their homes and their cars, true numbers indicate that plastic contributes to save energy and carbon dioxide emissions," he said.

“I do not envision a modern sustainable economy with no plastics at all but I do imagine a modern sustainable economy with zero plastic waste to nature, but we need to take action, together and with the plastic pollution, we cannot tolerate any more plastic waste and pollution.”

This was in line with Cefic’s mid-century vision strategy announced earlier this year, which looks at how the chemicals sector will evolve by 2050, identifying hurdles and how best to overcome these.

Cefic president Daniele Ferrari said of the plan: “It is not a book of solutions but an invitation to discuss, it is a platform that we want to use among stakeholders to engage in discussion.

“In order to achieve this vision, we need to define the European way, and the European way means to innovate towards circular models, lead on sustainability and be on the forefront of innovation technologies.

“I discussed this with policy makers, hopefully to create a supportive policy framework, scientists to continue to seek innovative solutions, and the academics to prepare for tomorrow with their thoughts.”

Noted futurist and theoretical physicist Michio Kaku spoke of what the world will look like in 2030, and posed 10 issues that the chemicals industry faces ranging from the challenge of creating a super battery to humankind achieving immortality.

Following this BASF board of directors executive director and CFO Martin Brudermuller, and Solvay CEO Ilham Kadri were invited to explore these issues in a round table discussion moderated by BBC HardTalk journalist Stephen Sackur.

In response to this, Kadri stated that the way to achieve these advances was through partnership between industry and academia, with focus given to research and innovation (R&I) and identifying growth areas that Solvay were targeting.

“The opportunity is huge for electric cars, or hybrid cars moving away from internal combustion engine, so the opportunity for us is to have high performance material, because 50% of the cost of an electric car is battery.

“Our customers are asking us to make it smaller and more affordable for adoption, so these are things that are happening today to see how we can do all of this in a smaller space.

“The second thing is artificial intelligence (AI)…it is reality, of course affordability is going to come and digitisation is getting cheaper and cheaper, so the companies who are going to win are the companies are going to start it.”

While also targeting the electrification of the automotive sector, Brudermuller explained that the company needed to deploy both disruptive and evolutionary strategies at the same time in order to achieve the best growth.

“If you run a big company like ours, you cannot tell the whole company to be disruptive in everything you do: it hits you.

“You have to have both pieces together as one is the engine for the new, and the other is the extension of what you have.”

Focus article by Morgan Condon