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19th European Roundtable on Sustainable Consumption and Production – Circular Europe for Sustainability: Design, Production and Consumption

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Recycling Bulk Chemicals

The world’s population growth, climate change and increasing demand on energy and resources are drivers behind the need to find circular economy solutions also in the production of bulk chemicals. In addition, the increasing urbanization, especially in Asia and Africa, causes waste management problems resulting, for example, in accumulation of plastics not only on land but also in the oceans. Plastics are one of the chemicals produced in bulk quantities. The volume of plastic waste in the oceans increases at the rate of about eight million metric tons every year. This illustrates the magnitude of the chemicals recycling problem waiting a solution.

The chemical sector is the largest industrial energy consumer and responsible for approximately seven percent of anthropogenic global greenhouse gas emissions, and five and half percent when only counting carbon dioxide emissions. This makes the chemical sector the third largest industrial emitter of carbon dioxide after the steel and cement production. Recycling and production of renewable chemicals offer possibilities to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions and to close the carbon loop. This study focuses on the possibilities to recycle or reproduce key bulk chemicals from waste streams or non-conventional resources. The methodology used is a three-tier process comprising of a statistical survey for the selection of the chemicals to be included in the study, followed by the evaluation of technological choices. Finally, a life cycle analysis including greenhouse gas emissions and energy use to evaluate the most promising bulk chemicals and technological choices identified completes the study.

The project is not yet complete. However, the preliminary results are promising and indicate that recycling of ammonia, methanol, ethylene, propylene, carbon black, urea, thermoplastics and other bulk chemicals is possible and potentially viable. The preliminary results implicate that the expected volume of recyclable, recoverable or renewable bulk chemicals could reach over twenty percent of the global market in 2035. This would mean a potential annual reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of over seven hundred megatons.

Raili Kajaste
Aalto University, School of Chemical Engineering, Department of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering

Pekka Oinas
Aalto University, School of Chemical Engineering, Department of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering


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