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Roadmap for a Circular Economy of Chemicals

Roadmap for a Circular Economy of Chemicals

Workshop Summary 24th January 2024

This workshop included over 50 stakeholders from academia, industry, policy makers and the third sector. The following is a summary of the highlights arising from the discussions.

Current Landscape

The UK chemical sector is the second highest emitter of CO in the UK, with over 80 million tonnes produced annually, 65% of which is from energy. If we manage to switch to renewable energy by 2050, there’s still 35% of carbon emissions related to chemical products that need to be addressed. CircularChem is developing sector-wide solutions for the circular resource flow of olefins to address the emissions associated with olefin production and prevent 120 million tonnes of plastic going to landfill and 8 million tonnes ending up in the ocean.

The Vision

  • Reduction in consumption (do we need all these products?)
  • Education on the consequences of a “do nothing” scenario vs. a climate positive future.
  • Consider longevity above recyclability.
  • Placed based technology solutions which consider supply of clean energy and feedstocks.
  • A portfolio of technologies for diverse feedstocks and products (no one size fits all solution).
  • Transparent and appropriate olefin pricing for effective procurement.
  • Fast action with consumer engagement to meet landfill elimination and climate and biodiversity targets.
  • Simple targets and unified metrics to promote innovation.
  • Hierarchy of prioritised uses for feedstocks and resources (e.g. biomass, hydrogen, captured CO2, waste plastic).

The Gaps

  • Data transparency and global standards: a harmonized methodology for sustainability metrics, such as full life-cycle analysis, production and material flows.
  • Economic incentives for a circular economy: models which are reflective of the total cost of products, share the economic burden across the value chain and appropriate to the different scales and lifecycles.
  • Engagement: education of consumers to reduce consumption and make decisions based on transparent information on sustainability credentials; a unified voice from industry to government; open and effective communication between academia and industry.
  • Policy incentives to change: a clear and effective industrial strategy for the chemical industry; legislation and targets to ignite innovation in the required technology; harmonisation of regulations for chemicals and valorisation of chemical wastes.
  • Infrastructure: Capacity for renewable feedstocks, energy and green hydrogen to meet the demand for ethylene.
  • Systems: Harmonisation of the complete (and complex) value chain on an international scale.

The Action Plan


Concluding remarks

The complexity of the issue is evident with the suite of actions required in parallel to make impactful change. It was made clear that many points raised in the day are interrelated and will affect one another, for example more explicit terminology can make engagement between sectors more accessible. With more engagement between sectors, issues with data transparency can be addressed, enabling researchers and policymakers make informed decisions for future policy and technology advancements. There is alignment on the fundamental challenges towards net zero, a clear strategy to overcoming the challenges is still needed for chemicals.

Circular economy of chemicals workshop cartoon