A major cross-sectoral partnership is planning to channel €1.4 billion in private sector research spending to resource and energy efficiency in Europe's process industries – those sectors, such as steel and cement, that transform bulk resources into products that underpin modern economies.
The SPIRE partnership (Sustainable Process Industry through Resource and Energy Efficiency) will act as an umbrella for eight sectors: steel, chemicals, minerals, water, non-ferrous metals, engineering, cement and ceramics. It will coordinate their research efforts, and direct them towards two objectives, which it hopes to achieve by 2030: a 30% reduction from current levels in fossil fuel energy intensity, and the reduction by a fifth of non-renewable, primary raw material intensity. Energy and resource intensity refer to the amount of energy and resources needed per unit of final product.
The partnership's research and innovation strategy will examine how use of feedstocks (raw materials) can be optimised, how processes and applications can be made optimally efficient, how waste can be used as a resource, and how good practices can best be exchanged and promoted throughout industrial sectors. SPIRE has published an implementation plan detailing numerous planned measures. For example, on the use of waste as a raw material, SPIRE plans a number of initiatives, from examining how waste slags, dusts and sludge from metal making can be incorporated back into the production process, to studying how gases emitted during industrial processes – such as carbon dioxide, hydrogen and carbon monoxide – can be captured and converted into fuels or chemicals, rather than discharged to the environment.
SPIRE president Klaus Sommer, who represents one of the member companies, Bayer, says that the process industries covered by the initiative represent 20% of the EU economy. The partnership has attracted 60 members, including major companies, research institutes and industry associations. Their expected €1.4 billion research budget will be spent in the period up to 2020. SPIRE says that it “looks for co-funding under the Horizon 2020 framework programme,” the EU research programme that will run from 2014-2020.
One of the main aims of SPIRE, Sommer says, will be “finding undiscovered synergies between industrial sectors that have more in common that we thought”. Typically, resource and energy efficiency improvements in sectors such as steel and cement have been kept in those sectors, though they have similar systems and processes to other process industries, he says. SPIRE will aim to unlock unheralded innovations that are applied in one sector, and transfer them to others.
Sommer adds that the broad goals of SPIRE – a 30% fossil fuel energy intensity reduction, and a 20% raw material intensity reduction – are “based on a good analysis of what can be done reasonably. We are not over-promising, but [achievement of the goals] is something that would make a substantial difference because it is industry-wide”. SPIRE has also been inspired by the need to make Europe's process industries more sustainable in the face of international competition. “We want to outpace other regions, other continents,” Sommer says.
SPIRE aims to become a European Private Public Partnership – or a partnership through which private and public research objectives will be coordinated, and EU support will be provided for industry-led research into industrial technologies.