Volume 85 Issue 42 | pp. 25-26
Issue Date: October 15, 2007

Optimism In Europe

Despite challenges, studies predict the European chemical industry will remain a global leader
Department: Business | Collection: Sustainability
Cornélis
Credit: Total
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Cornélis
Credit: Total
Liveris
Credit: Peter Cutts Photography
8542bus2_liveriscxd
 
Liveris
Credit: Peter Cutts Photography

THE FUTURE OF the European chemical industry is bright. That was the impression earlier this month in Budapest, at the Global Chemical Industry European Convention.

Attendees included chemical executives from around the world. They discussed, among other things, three studies that attempt to plot a future for the chemical industry both in Europe and elsewhere in the world. One was completed by consultants, another is being developed under the guidance of the European Union, and the third has just been published by the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA). Although the three differ in scope and state of completion, their analysis so far of the future of the European chemical industry gives ample reason for optimism.

According to Alain Perroy, director general of the European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC), a team from international business school Insead and Munich-based consultants Management Engineers was looking for a venue to present the results of a prospective study it had just completed on the Western European chemical industry in 2017. The convention, featuring CEFIC and ICCA programs, as well as the annual European meeting of London-based Society of Chemical Industry, was just the ticket, Perroy told C&EN.

On the basis of interviews with top executives at major European chemical companies, the consultants concluded that managers are approaching the future with optimism. According to Isolde Bachert, one of the Management Engineers consultants, "The Western European chemical industry, with its long tradition of adapting to changes, will manage to remain a leader in the global industry."

There are a number of challenges facing the industry, Bachert conceded. However, she said, the study picked out the industry's strengths of customer focus, support, and service; the ability of its people to shape R&D; its productivity; and its supply-chain management, particularly in its integrated chemical sites throughout the region, as grounds for optimism.

The consultants' optimism in part reflected that of François Cornélis, president of Total Chemicals, as he opened the CEFIC meeting. For Cornélis, the first year of his two-year term as CEFIC president was marked by an industry in economic good health. The industry's output, excluding pharmaceuticals, is projected to grow by 2.7% in 2007, compared with 2.1% in 2006, he pointed out.

He was also pleased with the new initiative undertaken by the European Commission and led by Günther Verheugen, commissioner for enterprise and industry. The high-level group on the competitiveness of the European chemical industry is one of several such groups the EU has formed to study what is needed to ensure that its key industrial sectors remain innovative and competitive.

According to Cornélis, the chemical group will come up with a set of recommendations aimed at enhancing the competitiveness of the chemical industry in keeping with sustainable development. Some of the main topics will be innovation, regulation, energy, and international trade, all of which, he said, "need to be considered in an integrated and coherent approach."

Cornélis was also satisfied with the progress of REACH, the complex and highly contentious regulatory regime the EU has developed to register, evaluate, and authorize chemicals. After years of debate and argument, REACH entered into force on June 1. It will be administered by the new European Chemicals Agency, based in Helsinki, Finland; the commission is expected to name a director for the agency this month or next.

"For our member companies, the real work has only started," Cornélis pointed out. "Our industry will be judged on its delivery, and our responsibility is key." Some 30,000 substances "have to be registered on time, and the registration dossiers have to be of top quality," he said. "The reputation of our industry will largely depend on the success of REACH implementation."

He noted challenges ahead for the industry, however. One of the main ones is enhancing participation in the global voluntary Responsible Care initiative and improving its content.

Responsible Care and other chemical industry initiatives were spotlighted in the inaugural industry review released at the meeting by ICCA. A joint effort of the world's major chemical industry associations, the review examined various programs occupying the industry as it strives to safely manage chemicals and build a sustainable future for its companies and customers.

"The ICCA review makes it crystal clear that we are building momentum for product stewardship and sustainable chemistry," said Andrew N. Liveris, chief executive officer of Dow Chemical and president of ICCA.

Among other things, the review pointed out that Responsible Care has been expanded to 52 national associations and has been developed into a global charter. Moreover, ICCA is continuing to develop its high-production-volume program to provide data and hazard assessments for approximately 100 high-production chemicals that account for more than 90% of global chemicals production.

"THE MORE the industry demonstrates its ability to safely manage its products, the stronger its position will be in helping to shape future chemical policy at the local, national, and international levels," Liveris noted. "The global chemical industry is here for the long run."

At the meeting, CEFIC announced that Dow's Terneuzen site in the Netherlands was the winner of its annual European Responsible Care Award. The award recognizes the site's 50% reduction in the use of fresh intake water through a project with the local water board and water supplier Evides.

The water board treats sewage water in its biological wastewater treatment plant and then sends it to Evides. Evides further cleans and demineralizes 7,500 m3 of the water per day and supplies it to Dow for steam generation on-site. Dow's water consumption at the site is 50,000 m3 per day, and half of that now comes from recycling of process water, rainwater, and the municipal water.

The judges for the award noted that the project overcomes the huge prejudice of reusing treated sewage water. They added that the concept and the technology have the potential for use by other companies in similar situations.

 
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