Video of the week: Sustainability in the chemical industry

1 min read

This week’s video sees Loughborough University Professor Jin Xuan explaining why the chemical industry should focus on a circular economy approach.

Prof. Xuan, an expert in low carbon processes and head of the university’s Department of Chemical Engineering, explains that the chemical industry is one of the less obvious areas where tackling CO2 emissions can play a key role in meeting climate targets.

“Carbon dioxide emissions from various industrial sources account for 16 per cent of the UK’s total emissions and unfortunately, the chemical sector is one of the highest carbon dioxide emitters among all the UK’s industrial sectors and it is very hard to decarbonise it,” Xuan said.

He explained that most of our daily materials and products are made from oil and gas, such as plastic bags, as well as less obvious examples such as lab coats essentially made from petroleum oil.

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“This high reliance on fossil fuels generates serious problems and it means a high amount of carbon is embedded in these products. At the end of use, we send these products and materials to the incinerator and all the carbon dioxide is released back to the environment, which causes huge environmental issues and climate change effects.”

Professor Xuan calls for a circular economy approach within the industry to solve the problem. He is the director of the new £4.3m UKRI Interdisciplinary Centre for Circular Chemical Economy, which involves seven universities.

The centre’s ambition is to transform the UK’s £32bn chemical industry into a fossil-independent circular industry by developing sector-wide solutions for efficient recycling and recovery of chemical resources, such as olefins.

It will deliver interventions and innovations at all levels, starting from development of new disruptive technologies, their integration into existing processes and evaluation of whole system impacts, to the identification of non-technical barriers and opportunities and how they can be overcome/realised.

“We need to fully recycle and reuse all the waste and emitted carbon dioxide and use it to make fresh chemicals; I believe only by doing this will the chemical industry survive in this great transition toward net zero,” Xuan said. 

“We are very proud to be a national leader, bringing together stakeholders — such as business, government, and the public — to enable a great transition toward a circular economy, which we believe will play a role in the net zero future to be outlined at COP26.”