Sustainability Gets the Spotlight

Chemical makers are striving for improvements along many fronts

By Seán Ottewell, Editor at Large

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Sustainability has many dimensions for chemical manufacturers. Reflecting this, a number of major companies, including AkzoNobel, Eastman and Dow, have broad-based initiatives, while other firms are focusing particularly on using renewable resources and sustainable processes.

AkzoNobel, Amsterdam, relies on a program called Operational Eco-efficiency to disseminate sustainability experiences from different plants company-wide.

"While each site has its own team dedicated to improving eco-efficiency, Operational Eco-efficiency involves an outside team coming in with experience from other sites. Details about best practices also are available on the company intranet, and regular webinars are also used to pass on important information on subjects such as sustainable solutions in packaging and using waste as a byproduct," explains Johan Widheden, Gothenburg, Sweden-based senior sustainability specialist.

This sharing of ideas is coming together in a major way at a project in Ashington, U.K., where a £100-million ($166-million) paint manufacturing plant currently is under construction. Designed to be one of the most sustainable plants in the world when it opens next year, Ashington will produce 100 million L/yr of paint yet aims to achieve 100% re-use of water and 90% reuse of solvents. On top of that, the plant will consume 60% less energy to produce each liter of paint, reduce VOC emissions by 75% and cut waste by 50%. A minimum of 10% of site energy will come from on-site low-carbon sources such as biomass, photovoltaic panels and solar thermal water heating.

"This sharing of ideas has also been important at our specialty chemicals plant in Stenungsund, Sweden, which manufactures ethylene amine (Figure 1). Here they have cut energy consumption by 20% over the last two years. Lots of information about the processes and projects undertaken to achieve this have come via the Operational Eco-efficiency program," adds Widheden.

Alongside this program, AkzoNobel's CEO last year launched Planet Possible. "The drive here is to create greater value from fewer resources," notes Widheden.

The initiative has three targets. First is to reduce by 25% by 2020 the impact on climate that AkzoNobel's products have over their lifecycle. "Here we are working with our customers to see how we can help them use our paints or coatings more efficiently," he explains. Successful solutions include a new paint for ships that reduces drag and, therefore, fuel consumption, and an additive that allows asphalt to be laid at a lower temperature, cutting energy costs and fume emissions.

The second target is to ensure that by 2020 20% of the company's revenue comes from products with a sustainability advantage over their main competitors in the market. To this end, the company annually assesses all products for sustainability over their whole lifecycle — with a third party reviewing the process and results.

Finally, AkzoNobel is using a new index to measure whole business sustainability. "Called the Resource Efficiency Index, this is an expression of efficiency in terms of cradle-to-grave carbon footprint, divided by group profit. It measures how we create more value from fewer resources," he concludes.

At Eastman Chemical, Kingsport, Tenn., the drive is on to reduce energy intensity by 20% by 2020 (Figure 2). To this end, the firm raised its corporate energy budget, which is focused on improving operational efficiency and reducing environmental footprint, to $11 million last year and maintained that level for 2014.

A corporate energy management team spearheads these efforts. "In 2013, Eastman expanded the sites in the energy program to include some of the acquired Solutia sites. Sixteen of the company's manufacturing sites are now included, with plans to continue adding sites to the program. The team is led by a designated certified energy manager who regularly coordinates with Eastman's executive team, including the sustainability council," says Sharon Nolen, manager, corporate energy program.

Nolen leads monthly teleconferences that include input from Eastman sites around the world. Representatives from the technology and energy procurement departments also take part. Typical agenda items cover available resources (both internal and external) and a review of capital plans. In addition, all team members give a brief highlight from their sites.

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