The European chemical industry faces enormous challenges to meet the climate goals set by the European Commission in the framework of the Paris Agreement. This agreement aims at keeping a global temperature rise below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5°C. In this context, the position paper “Renewable carbon is key to a sustainable and future-oriented chemical industry”, co-written by Michael Carus and Achim Raschka from nova-Institute, promotes a sustainable chemical industry capable of fully transition to a circular bioeconomy.

In order to achieve the European Union goals, the authors have envisioned a circular economy, which increases resource efficiency, decreases raw material consumption and minimises econologically harmful loss pathways. Specifically, the chemical industry should source carbon only from renewable sources in order to develop into a sustainable sector and prevent a further increase of CO2 emissions.

The study identifies three main sources of renewable carbon:

  • Mechanical or chemical recycling of plastics or other chemical products already in existence.
  • All types of biomass.
  • Direct use of CO2 from fossil sources, as well as from permanent biogenic sources and direct-air-capture.

In 2015, the EU covered 14% of the carbon required within organic chemistry applications through biomass. This paper suggests that this share may double or triple by 2050.

When it comes to using biomass, comprehensive sustainability assessments are indispensable for any region to identify the most suitable local type of biomass for certain applications. In discussions on land use, direct and indirect land use changes and food security, the climate change risks for agricultural land and food production, as well as how biomass products may help reduce GHGs emissions, should be considered.

Finally, the study proposes several instruments and measures that policy makers can implement in the context of the circular economy to foster the renewable carbon chemical industry, which considers all three sources of renewable carbon.

The paper was published in August 2018 and is available for free download at the nova-Insitut’s website.