Could circular economy be an answer to petrochemicals?

Nov 21, 2021 by Energy Connects
image is Plastic

PVC water pipes.

Is moving into a circular economy can secure the future of the planet through practices such as upcycling, but also possibly help optimise the use of petrochemicals; in that case, what does the future of the industry looks like as the world wants to become more sustainable?

“A linear economy where we produce, use and dispose is not sustainable,” Thomas Gangl, CEO of Borealis said during an energy conference in Abu Dhabi last week. Gangl said that companies need to integrate the recycling process during the design phase of products in order to ensure a more sustainable world. 

Unlike paper or food, plastic is not biodegradable which means recycling it is very difficult and the material can hang in the world for hundreds of years. Nonetheless, it requires a high volume of energy to recycle the material. 

A report by the World Economic Forum and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, concluded that using the principles of  circular economy to the global plastic market could actually reduce the negative externalities such as leakages into the oceans 

“Borealis is very much engaged in design for efficiency in recycling so at that early stage, together with our customers, we work to find out how we can make the materials for packaging thinner so that we have only one layer,” said Gangl.

Within the energy sector, plastics are significantly utilised. Even for renewable energy, the world needs plastic to connect the wind turbines to the grid as an example of its importance. 

The International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasts that petrochemicals will become the largest driver of oil demand, making up almost 50 percent of the growth by 2050. 

“The circular economy is about connecting all of the dots. It is about having a refinery managing waste disposal and then having a power company focusing on ammonium and metal so that everyone has to go beyond their comfort zone and collaborate in a different way,” said Pierroberto Folgiero, CEO of Maire Tecnimont Group. 

Folgiero said that while there are different ways to run a circular economy, technology is the name of the game. 

“Upcycling is important and very simple. You take the plastic from the waste, you treat it mechanically – you wash it – treat it with chemical additives and then you use it again,” he explained.

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