Circular Economy in Chemicals: Materiality in Material Science

The Circular Economy Sprint – Acceleration of hidden value capture within just 7 weeks
Circular Economy in Chemicals: Materiality in Material Science Circular Economy in Chemicals: Materiality in Material Science
Publ. date 9 May 2017
According to chemical industry association Cefic, the EU chemical industry’s share of world markets has seriously declined in the past 20 years. In 1995 EU industry sales amounted to €326 billion, representing 32.3% of worldwide sales. Two decades on, the EU chemicals sales have grown almost 60% but the market share has dropped to a meagre 14.7% in 2015. This “dilution effect” looks set to continue. Demand for chemicals is growing strongly in China, India and other emerging countries but slowly in Europe and North America, where Europe sells most of its chemicals. What can sustainable innovation contribute to this challenge?


In our 2016 sector research, F&B found that, based on 4 years of Dow Jones Sustainability Index data, frontrunners in the chemical sector have a far higher share of environmental innovations for both processes and products. Even more tellingly, these frontrunners generate an almost 12% higher revenue share with those innovations (25.4% vs. 22.7%).

Frontrunner examples from Covestro and Akzo Nobel

With 2016 sales of €11.9 billion, Covestro is among the world’s largest polymer companies. Business activities are focused on the manufacture of high-tech polymer materials and the development of innovative solutions for products used in many areas of daily life. Research between Covestro (formerly Bayer MaterialScience) and the CAT Catalytic Center at RWTH Aachen University resulted in using C02 as a building block for polyurethane foam feedstocks. Covestro commissioned its 5,000 tonnes-a-year demonstration plant in Dormagen, which uses 20% C02 in its feedstock mix, in June 2016. The C02 used is a waste product from a neighbouring chemical company.

AkzoNobel’s Waste2Chemicals program objective is to realize a circular cycle in which waste, residual bio-mass and other feedstock, is collected and then used as resource to produce methanol, which is then used as a raw material to produce high-value chemicals.

The realization of Waste2Chemicals was something that AkzoNobel could not have done in isolation. Ultimately, AkzoNobel attracted 14 partners such as leading waste-to-product company Van Gansewinkel (now Renewi) and Air Liquide to join the initiative. As all 14 companies are spread out in the value chain, all actors in the initiative can contribute to reducing the overall environmental footprint by focusing on their individual strengths. At current the construction of the first Waste2Chemicals factory in Rotterdam is under investigation.

An agile approach to the circular economy: The Circular Economy Sprint

For the rest of the sector the question remains, how to drive innovation based upon a circular economy model. What to do to capture the hidden value? A low cost –high yield approach is to drive a 7-week process within the organisation; the Circular Economy Sprint. Adapting backlog and sprint techniques from the widely spread Scrum-methodology, the Circular Economy Sprint has several benefits:

  1. Get going in the Circular Economy: make Circular Economy thinking part of doing business by jumpstarting your program today to deliver big benefits tomorrow.
  2. Capture value from your existing business: Accelerate your sustainability program by locating attractive Circular Economy savings and start cashing in on them.
  3. Create new business opportunities: Develop new value propositions. Invest a small budget and produce tested business cases in just 7 weeks.
  4. Build a team of trained practitioners: Develop a thorough joint understanding of the Circular Economy as well as a common language.

Are you interested in accelerating your sustainability program with the Circular Economy Sprint and ready to capture the value, feel free to contact Finch&Beak for more information our no cure-no pay solutions via  Jan van der Kaaij at or call +31 6 28 02 18 80.

About Jan van der Kaaij

Sustainability expert in strategy development, DJSI and sustainable innovation, with a hands-on approach and always committed to go for the max. | 

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