At the second of four scheduled press conferences
on how Commission-funded research supports both sustainable development
and commercial competitiveness, Research Commissioner Philippe
Busquin underlined the importance of the chemical industry, with a
turnover of €400 billion and one of the highest growth rates in Europe.
Busquin and Emelia Müller
Alongside Busquin was Emelia
Müller , industrial chemist and Member of the European
Parliament . "As one of Europe's mainstay industries," said
Müller, "the chemical industry can contribute greatly to its
environmentally sustainable economic development." The numbers are
indeed impressive. In addition to its high turnover and 3% growth rate,
the industry boasts a 30% share of the world chemicals market and directly
or indirectly provides jobs for more than three million people. "But
in targeted research funding," said Müller, "Europe lags
far behind the United States and Japan. Only 2% of our public spending
goes to research, compared with 4.2% in the USA and 3.86% in Japan. Out
of every 1000 workers in Europe, only 5.3 work in research, compared with
8.1 and 9.3 in those countries."
The basis for this ongoing discussion has been the
White Paper on
'Strategy for Future Chemicals Policy' , presented by the Commission
in February 2001. It provides a multi-stage plan for evaluating chemicals
according to production quantity, properties and applications, with the
aim of achieving a high level of protection of human health and the environment.
"It is in this context," said Müller, "that we in
the Parliament have been considering how to devise a future chemicals
strategy for the EU which will satisfy environmental and health protection
requirements while not detracting from the competitiveness of the chemical
Commissioner Busquin said, "Striving for sustainable
development and strengthening European competitiveness are two of the
EU's major objectives today. This means strengthening European research
efforts through increased scientific and technical co-operation."
||Results that count
Joining Busquin and Müller at the Solvay's
Research and Technology Centre in Brussels, Belgium, leading
researchers presented the results of innovative EU-funded research
- a revolution in chemical production
"Chemical production involves a variety of reaction and separation
processes," explained Andrzej Górak of Dortmund University.
"These can be combined into single, integrated operations
known as 'reactive separation' where reactants are converted to
an end-product which is then immediately separated from other
by-products. All this takes place within a single reactive distillation
column." The process increases yields while reducing costs,
energy consumption and waste production.
Getting the process to work, however, is difficult, and success
depends largely on process design, including internal column structures.
The aim of the INTINT project is to develop novel design methodology,
including CFD-modelling software, for application-specific column
"The idea here is helping people to get their product to
market faster and with a higher level of quality," said Górak.
"You have a process for manufacturing a specific type of
material but you want to optimise the process? The system we are
developing will help you to do that."
- new monitoring techniques for the chemical industry
Chemical accidents and plant shutdowns are responsible for economic
losses in the billions of euros every year. High-profile incidents
like Bhopal and Chernobyl remind us of the human toll and the
enormous weight of responsibility placed on the shoulders of plant
operators. According to Sylvie Cauvin of the Institut Français
du Pétrole, the CHEM project is developing flexible integrated
software for improving the safety and efficiency of chemical plant
Asked to comment on the role of the Commission in CHEM's success,
Cauvin said, "This is very important, not just in terms of
funding but in getting people together who might normally never
meet. It takes a wide range of knowledge and expertise to get
something like this organised and off the ground."
- clean polymer production
Conventional plastic manufacturing generates large amounts of
toxic waste. The SUPERPOL project has developed new production
methods employing supercritical fluids - gases subjected to very
high pressures - for reducing toxic waste in plastics production.
"Not only is it a cleaner process," said Costas Kiparissides
of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, "but the resulting
product is a purer polymer, in fact it is exceptionally pure."
According to Kiparissides, the new process means an overall reduction
in manufacturing costs of around 20%, a savings of some €3.5
million per year in Europe. An additional savings of €1 million
per year would be associated with the reduction of required wastewater
would especially like to thank all of the officers within the
Growth Programme," said Kiparissides. "Without the help
of the Commission, this project would not have been possible.
We have made great progress and are all very happy."
||A tour of Solvay
the opening presentations, guests were treated to a close-up look
at some high-tech chemical wizardry on a walking tour of the Solvay
Research and Technology Centre. Along the way, Solvay staff demonstrated
the results of additional EU-funded projects, including TRICARE
, concerned with the recycling of electrical cable straps, and the
project, aimed at developing efficient methods for recycling plastic
car fuel tanks.
Research in the chemical industry is supported
under the Growth Programme's generic activity in 'New
materials and production technologies' .
INTINT - Intelligent
column internals for reactive separations (G1RD-1999-00048);
CHEM - Advanced Decision Support System for
Chemical/Petrochemical Manufacturing Processes (G1RD-2001-00466);
SUPERPOL - Polymerization and polymer
modification in supercritical fluids - a novel way for cleaner
manufacturing of plastics (BRPR970503);
TRICARE - Tribo-electric cable plastics
RECAFUTA - Car plastic fuel tanks closed
loop recycling process design and life cycle assessment (BRPR980658).