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The Dutch chemical sector is world class, both on a academic and economic level. However, its position on the global stage is under pressure. In other parts of the world energy and feedstock costs are lower. For the longer term, the outlook remains positive with an emphasis on sustainable chemistry.
Colette Alma

This is the vision of the VNCI (the national association of the Dutch chemical industry). For the next 15 years the chemical sector will have to transform considerably. It has to reivent itself, so to speak.

VNCI-director Colette Alma: ‘We have established a route towards 2030, which should lead both to higher production volumes and to value growth through higher-value products. This growth has to be achieved in a sustainable manner. World wide there are significant challenges which need to be adressed, such as climate change or the scarcity of production means. The chemical sector is playing a pivotal role in this matter because it supplies to all other production sectors.’

Key role

This key role, according to Alma, has been translated by the VNCI into an ambitious plan to reduce the environmental footprint of the chemical sector and of the products this sector supplies. ‘There are different domains where we want to make a difference: CO2-reduction, efficiency in dealing with raw materials, biomass as an alternative feedstock and waste for feedstocks. The reduction of CO2-emissions should be 40 per cent in 2030 (including effcets on the entire supply chain, compared to data from 2005, ed.). Efficiency in raw materials can be realised by increased recycling. The use of biomass definitely offers opportunities for our sector. Our main ports transfer tonnes of biomass on a daily basis and the Netherlands is a major producer of sugar beets and potatoes which can be used for material and/or chemical purposes. Waste-to-chemical also is an interesting domain given the enormous volumes and relatively low feedstock costs.’

Targets for 2030

The goals the VNCI has set for the use of biomass and recycled feedstocks are quite high: in 2030 15 per cent of all feedstocks should be biobased. At the moment this percentage is between 5 and 6 per cent. ‘We expect that the share of recycled feedstocks will be 10 per cent, which implies that fossil feedstocks will take up 75 per cent.’

The question is if the transition towards biobased/circular economy is going fast enough to reach to above targets. Alma says it is too early for a judgment. However, she is concerned about the current growth rate. ‘It is not so much a matter of R&D, but more of a lack of industrial activities, for example a biorefinery situated in a industrial complex. We need significant investments and momentarily these are scarce because of the relative low oil price and the uncertain economic climate. In the long run, the outlook for the biobased economy will improve as fossil feedstock prices will continue to be volatile.’