Charting new, sustainable future
In his first interview for GPCA Insight, Adriano Alfani, CEO, Versalis, shares his vision for the company’s sustainable transformation and discusses the enablers for a low carbon, circular future
As a major player in sustainable chemistry, how does Versalis see the road ahead to climate neutrality and realizing the Paris Accord commitments?
Versalis, Eni’s chemical company, set a concrete path to reach decarbonization and announced intermediate targets to achieve the objective of carbon neutrality by 2050 (vs. 2018): 15% by 2025 and 30% by 2035 for Scope 1 and 2 with the goal to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. We believe in complementarity of solutions through a path that requires great efforts to have a broad portfolio of innovative technologies, by investing in people, research and technology development.
Targets will be reached by developing existing and new technologies to tackle direct emissions of processes. For example, we are working on the development of a steam-cracking electrification technology together with our peers within the Cracker of the Future initiative – and by increasing energy efficiency, use of renewable energy and alternative feedstock.
We are working on reducing emission along the whole chain, implementing circular models to offer decarbonized products and solutions on the market. Through recycling of polymers and platforms of chemicals from renewables, we aim to maximize the sustainability of processes and products through reduced CO2 emissions both upstream and downstream the value chain.
Versalis has made some significant changes to the business recently transforming one of its major sites and moving more toward green chemicals. Can you tell us more about this transformation and what have been some of the learnings along the way?
Porto Marghera (Venice, Italy) is a main example of industrial site transformation toward energy transition, which plan consists of industrial initiatives based on innovative technologies, increased sustainability and circularity.
In Porto Marghera, Versalis is building the first mechanical recycling plant to produce polymers from post-consumer plastics with a capacity of about 20,000 tons/year. The new products, which will strengthen Versalis’ European leadership in recycled polymers, will be destined for sectors, where the requirements of sustainability and circularity are essential, such as packaging and construction. A second phase will see the realization of an additional 50,000 tons/year plant, expanding the portfolio of recycled polymers.
The transformation of Porto Marghera will be also an opportunity to diversify Versalis’ portfolio and market participation through the built of the first plant in Italy for the production of isopropyl alcohol with a capacity of 30,000 tons/year based on proprietary technology.
You joined the company as a CEO in 2021 during a challenging period of time. What has been your focus over the past two years and what is your vision for the future of Versalis?
In Versalis we have been working hard together from the first day with the objective to move in the direction set by our strategy and accelerate its implementation, guided by industry transformation and Eni’s ambitious strategy of diversification and full decarbonization.
Over the last few years, we have been making important progress in each of our strategy pillars; we brought higher specialization of portfolio with many initiatives and in particular with the acquisition of Finproject (a company specialized in compounding). We continued to strengthen our position in chemistry from renewable, developing proprietary green technology platforms, and more recently, we completed the acquisition of Novamont, a leader in the bio-degradable and bio-compostable polymers business to further expand our low-carbon portfolio. Important progress was made for circularity, in particular in Porto Marghera, where we have started the realization of the first advanced mechanical recycling complex and, just a few weeks ago, we began the construction in Mantova of our first chemical recycling plant based on a proprietary technology Hoop®.
Our vision for Versalis is to continue its transformation, leveraging our great effort for specialization through an increased presence in end-user markets and for sustainability with a leadership position in bio and circular products.
In that direction, we also renewed Versalis’ identity to incorporate our transformation process and strategy as a leading chemical company: our new logo and pay-off – “chemistry by people, for people” – reflect our sustainability mission, together with our identity as Eni’s company and the strong commitment and passion of all our people to industry transition.
What is the role of recycling in enabling the circular economy and what are the key enablers to make the CE a reality? What role can chemical producers play in this?
The adoption of circular models, aimed at maximizing the sustainability of production chains, involves complementary solutions, such as, renewable materials or post-consumer plastic recycling that contribute to increasing the circularity of carbon, while equally reducing CO2 emissions.
The recycling of plastic waste allows to replace the use of virgin feedstock but also to avoid the emissions that would be released into the atmosphere with waste incineration. This allows to overcome the model of linear exploitation of resources.
The chemical industry is committed to the development of advanced recycling technology in order to widen the waste that can be recyclable and the final applications that can be reached. Recycling is a value chain process. To really implement a circular model, partnerships and collaborations across the whole value chain are fundamental to strengthen waste collection and sorting, develop applications and promote market demand.
In this field, we consider mechanical and chemical recycling as complementary processes and we are realizing advanced mechanical recycling plants based on consolidated technology at industrial scale and a chemical recycling plant based on our proprietary technology which is able to enhance heterogeneous flows of waste and to obtain products identical to the virgin ones, suitable for all applications.
What is the role of technology in enabling the energy transition and what is your strategy with regards to developing Versalis’ technology capabilities?
The chemical industry is considered a “hard to abate” sector, so decarbonization is a big challenge that, in our vision, requires a complementary approach among the development of existing and new technologies, including circularity and use of alternative feedstock. Furthermore, it is an innovation catalyst and plays a key role in the path toward a low-carbon and circular economy: the energy transition is a technological transition.
The commitment toward carbon neutrality has been concretely reshaping the European regulatory framework with an impact on the whole industry. This represents a very ambitious goal, which requires the joint efforts of the whole value chain to decarbonize our sector, and an opportunity toward more sustainable and low-emission business models.
The chemical industry plays a central role in the pathway for low carbon and circular economy and is investing in technological solutions and integrated initiatives through powerful supply chain joint efforts.
For Versalis, technology innovation is a fundamental lever to support company transformation and decarbonization targets. Our company’s know-how of technologies, products and processes is constantly enriched through in-house research and through partnerships to accelerate breakthrough innovation.
This is your first time speaking at the Annual GPCA Forum. What are your expectations from the forum this year and why are platforms like this important to advancing the chemical industry?
In a sector like chemicals, that is rapidly changing, the forum is certainly a main occasion to share expertise and insights from the most important players from all around the world, share perspective, discuss possible and different solutions to the major challenges that all of us are facing.
Energy transition is not a company target, but an industry target and it requires efforts from all the players involved. This is why more collaboration is needed between sectors and value chains.