Do more and better with less. This motto has never been more topical ! Arkema is stepping up its contribution to the circular economy in the light of today’s challenges such as the depletion of resources, global warming, population growth... The chemical industry is an innovations industry capable of playing a part in the development of sustainable solutions, as Virginie Delcroix, Arkema Vice President Sustainable Development, and Nicolas de Warren, Arkema Vice President Corporate Relations, explain.
What is the circular economy?
N. de W. : As set out in the French Energy Transition law of August 2015, the circular economy is a global approach that goes far beyond mere recycling. It emphasizes in particular new design and production modes and promotes a world without waste and with minimum extraction of raw materials. We can no longer afford to "squander our planet Earth", and this will have highly concrete impacts for a group like ours.
We need to shift from an impact reduction model to a value creation model.
Is the circular economy already a reality in the Arkema Group?
V. D. : For a number of years we have been de facto in a circular economy rationale by engaging in actions around energy efficiency and an industrial ecosystem. We have succeeded in significantly reducing our environmental footprint to conserve natural resources (reducing energy consumption, restricting water extraction, etc.).
At the same time, a lot of work is being undertaken in all our plants to aim for operational excellence (process optimization, waste limitation of by-products).
Can PMMA be used based on the principle of circularity?
V. D. : PMMA (polymethyl methacrylate) from Altuglas International is a typical example of a material that can be used on the basis of the circularity principle. There are various methods for recycling this material: for example, waste from extruded sheets can be reground and again injected or extruded. Waste from cast sheets can undergo a back-cracking process whereby the material splits back into its original monomer (methyl methacrylate), which can then be reused to manufacture PMMA.
Now that is what the circular economy is all about. In this regard acrylic composites, with our resin Elium®, are totally consistent with these eco-design solutions. We are working in all these areas. There could be a considerable scope for us with these renewable materials.
Does biosourced chemistry have its place in the circular economy?
N. de W. : Yes it does, insofar as biosourced chemistry and circular economy have a shared agenda which is to minimize the need for fossil resources. Our Rilsan® range of specialty polyamides of renewable origin is a perfect illustration of our know-how in biosourced chemistry. Castor oil, a raw material of vegetable origin, takes the place of oil, a raw material of carbon origin. This is a highly concrete example of the circular economy.
Continuing with biosourcing, we are engaged in joint research programs with players of the "flax" sector such as Fimalin and Fiabilin, for which the Cerdato R&D Center is the lead partner. The objective is to develop over five years long flax fiber composites for various markets, including automotive.
What else has to be done?
V. D. : This approach needs to be carefully orchestrated and be part of a technical, industrial, business and regulatory process. We are engaged in a progress and value creation approach. We are going to identify within the Company, in the value chain and with our customers, promising projects that make sense in terms of both the environment and the economy. If both factors are present, these projects will be sustainable.
You cannot engage in the circular economy on your own. Industry as a whole has to work in concert.
N. de W. : We aim to bring together an entire chain of players both upstream and downstream in some of our major product streams where appropriate. Why not, for instance, share the investment of a pilot plant with other chemicals manufacturers on a joint technological platform, as already exists with Axelera for example in Lyon or Canoe in Bordeaux? Theses collaborations will help improve the Group’s performance while also further reducing our environmental footprint.