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Graphic element Research > Growth > Research themes > Cross-disciplinary themes > Sustainability - Strong backing for European chemical research
Graphic element Sustainability - Strong backing for European
chemical research
    07/12/2001
 

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.

Philippe Busquin and Emelia Müller
Philippe Busquin and Emelia Müller
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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 industry."

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 projects.

  • INTINT - 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 internals.

    "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."

  • CHEM - 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 operations.

    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."

  • SUPERPOL - 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 treatment.

    Costas Kiparissides
    Costas Kiparissides
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    "I 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 operations
 
Sustainability on display
Sustainability on display
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After 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 RECAFUTA project, aimed at developing efficient methods for recycling plastic car fuel tanks.
 
   
Results that count
A tour of Solvay operations
   

Key data

Research in the chemical industry is supported under the Growth Programme's generic activity in 'New materials and production technologies' .

Projects

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 recycling (BRPR980654);

RECAFUTA - Car plastic fuel tanks closed loop recycling process design and life cycle assessment (BRPR980658).

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