Chemistry of the Future
The chemical industry is regarded as one of the most prominent sources of problems in the context of ecological discussions. This judgment has developed historically; in the past, there had been many critical events that renewed and supported this opinion. Is this notion still legitimate today, in a time where the chemical industry has improved its image in western countries and big catastrophes of the past like Seveso, Bhopal, Sandoz have become unusual?
Perhaps the more interesting question is if it is possible to imagine Germany’s economically efficient industry sector also as a chance for problem-solving. Can there be a space in which economical and ecological chances accompany each other? The discussion about a room for maneuver sounds academic, but facing global challenges caused by our present resource consumption it has become a necessity.
Especially industrial nations consume immense quantities of crude oil every year, whose formation out of sunlight and biomass took multiple million years of time. Besides the mobility sector, the chemical industry is responsible for a significant share of the oil consumption. On the other hand, chemicals and substances are needed to end this resource depletion. However, the chemical industry has to become more resource-efficient.
In our study Going Green: Chemicals for the German Heinrich Böll Foundation we stated:
„3.7 Conclusion: Current state of the chemical industry
The chemical industry in Germany has certainly made progress in the field of chemical safety in recent years. However, the necessary conditions for improved safety will only be in place once REACH is fully implemented – and, upon assessment of the first five years of REACH implementation and enforcement, it is clear that some criticism is certainly warranted. It must therefore be improved. In addition, attention should be focused on whether the findings of the REACH process cannot be used more effectively to achieve safer products faster.
The negative impacts on production have also decreased in recent years. A more serious enforcement of the existing legislation (German Clean Air Act) and several improvements at European level could lead to a satisfactory overall situation in this area.
The criticality of raw materials supply could be lowered considerably by systematically expanding the use of biomass. In this area, decisions need to be made on strategic and regulatory measures. The federal government’s relatively non-binding strategy paper (Federal Ministry for Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection – BMELV 2009) is not sufficient to achieve this goal.
The greatest challenges lie in the area of resource efficiency, both in production and in products. But this is also where the key opportunities lie for stabilising Germany as a strong location for chemicals. Existing technologies and processes are insufficient to successfully meet the two-degree target through known climate protection efforts. If these targets are to be reached and the economic and social status quo is to remain uncompromised – perhaps even improved – we must create fields of action and spaces for breakthrough innovations in key areas of ‘substance supply’, i.e. chemical production, supported by overall government conditions.”

The seven fields of actions in this context are:

  • Resource efficiency
  • Chemical safety
  • Raw material supply or «feedstock change»
  • Climate protection
  • New priorities in business development
  • Research and development (innovation spaces)
  • New plastics (packaging)

Find out more in our study:

  • Going Green: Chemicals. Fields of action for a resource-efficient chemical industry. Commissioned and published by the Heinrich Böll Foundation. Volume 19 of the Ecology Series, 2011
    Download: Going Green: Chemicals (pdf, 1,41 MB)