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Circular Economy of Chemicals Roadmap

The National Centre for Circular Chemical Economy is developing an evidenced based roadmap with the aim to unify efforts across the Centre’s three work themes and show the current status and future prospects for the circular economy of olefins. The roadmap is designed from three key aspects.

  •  The roadmap will show the current landscape for olefin production, what is the situational picture for the chemical industry and what needs to be addressed for a circular economy of chemicals.
  •  Create a vision towards a circular resource flow of olefins, what are the existing frameworks that can enable circular olefins and what a circular economy of chemicals would look like.
  • An action plan to implement the vision and a timeline in which it can be achieved in line with global net zero ambitions.

Within the vision of the roadmap, there are four principles which have been studied to enable the transition to a circular economy;

  1. Promoting resource efficiency across the chemical supply chain. Existing frameworks such as the waste hierarchy should be applied as a priority to create sustainable resource flows of olefins. A system-wide approach is required to assess how best to implement new resource efficiency measures and compare their impact.
  2. Reducing carbon emissions. The chemical sector is considered a ‘difficult to abate’ sector as fossil carbon is embedded in the production of platform chemicals and as an energy source. The roadmap utilises the learnings from the core themes and roadmap research to show viable technologies and effective decarbonising strategies which can effectively reduce emissions in the chemical sector.
  3. Replacing petrochemical feedstocks and reduce waste. Utilising waste feedstocks such as captured CO2, bio-based waste (e.g. anaerobic digestate from sewage sludge) and mixed municipal waste can provide the pathways for sustainable olefin production. A suite of alternative production routes to olefins are presented with their viability compared to the business as usual production of olefins.
  4. A whole systems approach. The complexity of transitioning from the current linear model to a circular model should not be underestimated. The roadmap encompasses the wider changes required in the chemical sector beyond new technology development such as; circular business models, economic considerations, societal and ethical considerations, and political levers to transition to net zero in a timely manner, whilst maintaining planetary boundaries.

The roadmap is informed by industry through continued stakeholder engagement, including workshops, interviews, surveys and round-table discussions, to understand the barriers and enablers to a circular economy in the chemical industry and where we can accelerate change in the chemical sector. The stakeholders play a key role in the creation of the roadmap to ensure there is a holistic perspective towards circular olefin production and avoid a siloed approach, as shown in the figure below.

Figure 1. Stakeholder map integrated with a whole-system model for the UKRI Interdisciplinary Centre for Circular Chemical Economy (doi.org/10.1016/j.chempr.2023.02.004).

From consultation with our stakeholders, engagement with external bodies and core work from the centre, the roadmap will also highlight the current gaps preventing the vision for a circular economy of chemicals being achieved. A key component of the CircularChem centre is the development of enabling technologies for the advancement of non-mechanical recycling of captured CO2, biomass and plastic waste. The roadmap will compare the alternative technologies developed in the centre against state of the art established approaches. It will present scenarios when the centre’s enabling technologies can be disruptive and what enablers could be put in place to accelerate the transition.  

If you are interested in contributing to the roadmap study, have questions about the study or suggestions for the roadmap please contact the team:

Professor Elizabeth Gibson (elizabeth.gibson@newcastle.ac.uk)

Sydnee O’Brien (sydnee.obrien@newcastle.ac.uk)

How to get involved

Contribute to our CircularChem roadmap survey

If you would like to contribute to our CircularChem roadmap and are available for a short interview, please contact Prof. Elizabeth Gibson.

Read a summary of the highlights from the latest Circular Chemical Economy of Chemicals Road mapping workshop here.