Thomas Gangl, CEO, Borealis, and speaker at this year’s Annual GPCA Forum, discusses the latest developments in sustainability and highlights the role of innovation and collaboration in making an impact
What needs to change within the chemical industry today to ensure a sustainable future for the coming decades?
The chemical industry needs to accelerate its efforts to transition from a linear to a circular economy. As an industry, we offer innovative solutions that address pressing global challenges like resource scarcity and population growth. Circularity is an opportunity for us to work together to preserve the planet and ensure the highest possible living standards for future generations.
What is the role of the chemical industry in helping to build a sustainable, post-pandemic world? How should the industry tackle the socio-economic and environmental challenges of today, and prepare for those of tomorrow?
The chemical industry is uniquely positioned to help other economic sectors become more sustainable. If innovation is allowed to drive progress on circularity, we can continue to offer wide ranging material and technological solutions across multiple sectors – from consumer goods to digital technology to waste management. Enabling the industry to leverage our expertise and technology to tackle societal challenges is more efficient than enacting bans or restrictions, both of which stifle innovation.
What is the role of plastics in meeting society’s challenges, needs and expectations? How can we address the plastic waste issue? What role does the industry have to play, and what is Borealis doing in this regard?
As a material resource, plastics are without rival when it comes to versatility, efficiency, and convenience. Their appeal has led to a 20-fold increase in use over the past 50 years. And while plastics are far too valuable to be wasted, the reality is that they far too often are. This is why Borealis is dedicated to achieving plastics circularity by ensuring that plastics are re-used, collected, or recycled. To keep plastics in the loop, we are investing in mechanical and chemical recycling technologies and facilities. We have led the industry by becoming one of the first virgin polyolefins producer in Europe to become a mechanical recycler, and have now become the first to start producing polyolefins from renewable feedstocks. We encourage value chain cooperation and we are tackling plastic pollution in marine environments with Project STOP, a program which works closely with municipal authorities in Indonesia to establish efficient waste management and recycling systems.
The circular economy and decarbonization are currently gaining momentum. Yet more work lies ahead to make them a reality. What in your view is the role of collaboration and innovation to help achieve circular economy and accelerate decarbonization efforts?
The circular economy is more than plastic circularity alone. Establishing it requires an industry wide, holistic approach, in which decarbonization is only one critical component. At Borealis, our dedication to value creation through innovation enables us to develop and scale up technologies that unlock circularity. In turn, this allows us to collaborate with our value chain partners and customers in the development and production of high quality polyolefin products with enhanced sustainability.
Tell us about some of the initiatives and projects that Borealis is championing to help achieve the circular economy and decarbonization.
We have established a circular cascade model in which proprietary technologies are utilized and combined to develop more eco-efficient plastics, and to give plastics multiple lives. To start, plastics applications are designed with reuse and recycling in mind and with a view to environmental compatibility. Once an application has reached its end of life, the loop can be closed by mechanical recycling. Chemical recycling may complement this process to further valorize residual waste streams which might otherwise be incinerated or landfilled. Our model also generates more sustainable plastics by using base chemicals obtained through direct carbon capture and renewable feedstocks. For chemical recycling we are collaborating with OMV who has developed its own technology. In addition, we collaborate with Belgium-based company Renasci. They created the Smart Chain Processing concept in which material recovery is maximized in order to achieve zero waste.
We are also boosting the share of renewable energy used in our own production operations and lowering our carbon footprint. We have signed a series of long term power purchase agreements to secure the supply of renewable energy for our operations in Finland, Belgium, and Sweden. Earlier this year, we installed our first solar photovoltaic array to contribute to the power supply of our Monza, Italy operations. This will also be the first in a series.
In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, industry leaders are focused on future proofing their organizations, leading with empathy, and redefining strategic goals to thrive in the ‘new reality’. How is Borealis approaching this and adapting to an ever-changing world?
Borealis has always put safety first. I am convinced that our deeply established safety mindset is one reason why we were prepared to deal effectively with the challenges thrown up by the pandemic. We will continue to focus on safety, and on putting people first. Of course, the pandemic has accelerated the trend towards digitalization and the hybrid workplace, and we will put our technological expertise to work to smooth this transition.
The Annual GPCA Forum session in which you will be participating is entitled ‘Strengthening the recovery through value-creation’. What does this statement mean to you and what will it take for chemical companies today to drive a sustainable recovery in the post pandemic reality?
Value creation through innovation is a cornerstone of our strategy. Thus, we are well positioned and eager to make a meaningful contribution to an economic recovery for more sustainable living. But as an industry, our work is clearly cut out for us. There is no simple formula to follow; the transition to circularity will require cooperation on an unprecedented and global scale, and with all stakeholders. Sustainable recovery can also be encouraged by way of regulatory and economic frameworks that promote circularity while at the same time encouraging innovation and value chain collaboration.