Stan Higgins 2

Member Article

Going Green

Dr Stan Higgins, CEO of NEPIC, says get to grips with the real problem, not the tip of the iceberg.

£750 Billion of the UK’s advanced manufacturing activity is underpinned by the UK’s £60 Billion chemistry using process industries. The process industries are the biggest industry across NE England representing 30% of its industrial economy and 60% of its exports. These industries are the key to the success of the consumer facing manufacturing sectors such as aerospace, automobiles, construction, health and medical care and cosmetics. (Source Technology Strategy Board). Most scientists and engineers accept that it is in the manufacture of the intermediates made in the process industries that the vast majority of carbon is used, either to provide the energy to transform basic raw materials into useful intermediates or as the molecules of the products themselves. Trying to tackle these issues just at the consumer industry interface, such as electric vehicles, removing solvents from paints or taking aerosols away from the consumer is like sailing the Titanic towards an island of Ice and snow in the mid-Atlantic and not realising that 80% of the problem is not in view.

The vast majority of the energy and the carbon usage lie in the processing sectors which create the materials we use to make consumer products like cars – the steel, the plastic, the aluminium, the composites, the tyres and the lubricants etc. This hidden supply chain is where the problem lies but herein also lies the solution. Most of the technology needed to significantly decarbonise the UK process industry is known, we do not need more research and development and more innovation centres, instead we need to incentivise our industry to move to these alternative existing technologies. To make the investments that will enable them to use societal waste, biomass and clean coal technology (including carbon capture and storage) via technologies such as pyrolyisis to manufacture synthesis gas which can be used as a “universal” raw material for the petrochemical, polymer, composites and energy sectors.

Such structural change to an industry is very expensive. But these things are happening elsewhere in the world where industries are much more integrated than ours or where new industry clusters are being established. To effect the change and significantly reduce the carbon footprint and green up the UK economy Billions of pounds will be needed to make it happen. We have the technological expertise
to do this in the UK, indeed many of our technology and engineering companies are helping others to achieve these goals elsewhere in the world. Unfortunately the high capital cost of such investments, the fragmentation of the chemical industry in the UK and the largely foreign ownership of the commodity process companies are the main limiting factors. There is no individual UK process industry company big enough on their own to take on the challenge and make this happen.

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Dr Stan Higgins .

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