A climate-neutral Chemelot: “The campus and the site must take action together”

august 27, 2018

A challenging CO2 emission goal has been imposed on our country in the Paris Climate Accord. In other words, there is an awful lot of work to be done, and this is why they are rolling up their sleeves at Chemelot. Chemelot aims to be fully climate-neutral by 2050. Bert Kip, CEO of Brightlands Chemelot Campus and Robert Claasen, Executive Director of Chemelot, tell us what is required to achieve this goal.

The conditions

If Chemelot hopes to be CO2-neutral, we have to re-examine all of the processes. This is a major task, and means that the connection between the campus and the site is necessary,” Robert says. “Together we form a unique ecosystem where research and practical applications go really well together. It is a place where we can create broad applications for research, testing and scaling-up and then produce the resulting products in high volumes. This is referred to as ‘de-bottlenecking’ and is a pre-condition for successful innovation.” Bert: “Timing is very important at Chemelot. Innovations in chemistry can easily require between ten and twenty years of development time. These are long-term development processes. Don’t forget that a factory here might only be fully shut down once every six years for maintenance. This is the ideal moment to add something new if necessary. Another very different aspect yet definitely just as important to this transition is having the right staff. Scaling-up is an essential part of innovation processes. There are only a limited number of people who can do this. Before these people retire, they must transfer their knowledge and skills to the younger generation. In order to prevent a lack of indispensable expertise in the near future, we are working with Sitech, TNO and Maastricht University on the development of the Brightlands Center for Sustainable Technology. If we want to be climate-neutral by 2050, we need to take action now. And it is crucial for the campus and the site to do this together.”

One ambition, five ways to achieve it

Chemelot has designated five ways to achieve the collective climate goal: ultimately only using green energy, resources must be sustainable, residual materials must be re-used in their entirety, production processes must be improved, and CO2 must be used as a raw material. Bert: “When it comes to production processes, we just discussed how important it is for the campus and site to work together on this. If you take the entire list, you will also see that the other Brightlands campuses can play a meaningful role in these activities. Big data and artificial intelligence can help us optimize processes. Brightlands Campus Greenport Venlo’s expertise when it comes to determining bio-based feedstock as a source of raw materials is also really useful.”

Bert Kip, CEO Brightlands Chemelot Campus

Natural gas and naphtha are both energy carriers and raw materials for Chemelot. Robert: “These are both fossil fuel resources. Since this means a double challenge in developing new processes, we are going to work on a circular energy and raw materials section. Bio-based materials and recycled plastics will become the two raw material sources. We want to build a complete recycling hub.” 

“Our ambition doesn’t stop at the gate”

Robert: “Since all the plants at the site are linked together, we are already saving 10 to 15% on energy. In spite of this, we use so much energy that we would have to fill a large part of Limburg with wind turbines in order to fulfill our energy needs. The first two energy transitions, from coal and gas, occurred underground. Our current infrastructure is based on natural gas, and this has to change now. We need more room for the third energy transition so we have the space to generate energy and to transport it. Not only does this require many different parties, they also have to be convinced to participate. Our ambition doesn’t stop at the gate.”

A coal-fired Tesla

“The same goes for the spare parts we produce,” Robert continues. “The naphtha crackers at Chemelot produce a lot of heat. There are potential options for delivering this heat to homes the same way we are already planning on doing this with the Green Net. The greenhouse sector located around Venlo can really use the CO2 produced here. This isn’t that difficult in technical terms, but again, the issue is how do we get everyone on board with this? We naturally want to use the current pipeline network as much as possible, but it will still take a lot of work to make sure that the energy infrastructure will be suitable for this. We still have to work this all out, otherwise we risk building a Tesla that runs on coal.”

Robert Claasen, Executive Director of Chemelot

Connecting ambitions

Bert: “Our partners also play an important role in all of this. Sitech, the company that handles maintenance and engineering at Chemelot, will be moving to the campus in January. They have a great deal of operational know-how and will be a partner in the development of the sustainability center. Maastricht University and development partner TNO also see possibilities for connecting their ambitions to ours. The UM wants to expand its science and engineering faculty here. It’s a great opportunity for the UM to contribute to regional sustainability.”

Sustainable and competitive

Robert: “This transition doesn’t just happen automatically. It’s a matter of national interest, so we have asked for support for our plans from the government in The Hague, together with the Province of Limburg. We have also presented these plans to the Young Climate Movement. After all, the target year we’re aiming for is 2050; that’s these young people’s future! The companies also see the importance of this project. They want to contribute to Chemelot becoming climate-neutral by 2050, but they also want to remain competitive and avoid pricing themselves out of the market. We want them to continue to invest here. This is why we must work with the politicians in The Hague to create a fair playing field where the chemical industry can develop in both a sustainable and competitive manner.”

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Join us for Chemistry Day

Chemelot will be opening its doors for you on October 6th! Did you know that every day you use something that was made at Chemelot, or for which the innovations were devised at the campus?  The bubbles in your soft drink for example; they are made here. Even your car’s bumper contains materials that were produced at Chemelot.

Join us at Chemistry Day and try your hand with experiments in our laboratories or take part in a masterclass. Hop on the bus for a tour of the site, watch the company fire department’s demonstrations, meet the robot Bright and so much more!

Curious? Go to https://www.chemelot.nl/chemistry-day for further information and register to attend! Places are limited, so act now!

Chemistry Day