Interview with Prof. Dr. Jürgen Dahlhaus, Senior Vice President Chemicals and Catalysis Research, BASF, 20th April 2023
What are BASF's most important issues for the future?
"BASF and the whole chemical industry are in the middle of the most important transition of our history, at a time of geopolitical unrest. We have a double-twin transition to manage which is fairly unique: climate neutrality, getting circular, safer and more sustainable chemicals and getting digital. And all this while we are wrestling with volatile and high energy prices – at least in Germany. In doing so, we must maintain value creation and lay the foundation for successful business in the future."
What are the key technologies to mitigate CO2-emissions?
"Since 1990, we at BASF have almost halved our carbon emissions while simultaneously doubling sales product volumes. By 2030, we want to reduce our absolute CO2 emissions by 25% compared to 2018 and will invest up to €4 billion to this end. By 2050, we aim to achieve net zero emissions from our production sites and our energy purchases.
This comprises five strategic levers that we are systematically driving forward to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. 1. We are increasingly meeting our energy needs from renewable sources. 2. We are increasingly relying on the recovery of medium and low temperature heat to produce steam. 3. We are working to further improve the energy and process efficiency of our plants. 4. We are increasingly replacing fossil resources with bio-based raw materials. 5. Together with partners, we are pioneering nearly CO2 emission-free production processes, especially for emission-intensive basic chemicals (e.g. electrically heated steam cracker furnace for the production of basic chemicals and processes for the production of hydrogen such as methane pyrolysis and water electrolysis)."
How can BASF contribute to more sustainable chemical production?
"At the heart of the long-term transition towards net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 is the use of new technologies. They will replace fossil fuels such as natural gas with electricity from renewable sources - especially for emission-intensive basic chemicals.
At the same time, we are working on new concepts to decouple growth from resource consumption. Reduce, reuse and recycle are the keywords of this transition to a system of more sustainable product cycles with less resource consumption and lower carbon emissions, e.g. chemical recycling of plastics or battery materials. Battery materials might become the first value chain which will be built entire circular."
How can fossil raw materials be replaced in the future?
"The main component of our products is carbon – so we continue to need carbon sources for our production. In the future this will be increasingly plastic waste and renewable raw materials.
With chemical recycling of used tires and different types of plastics (ChemCycling™), BASF uses pyrolysis oil as drop-in recycled feedstock which is attributed to certified mass-balanced customer products. Chemical recycling is a complementary approach to existing mechanical recycling methods.
Furthermore, we employ renewable raw materials mainly based on vegetable oils, fats, grains, sugar and wood. In 2021, we purchased around 1.3 million metric tons of renewable raw materials. We also use renewable feedstocks such as biomethane and bio-naphtha in our Verbund as an alternative to fossil resources."
How will Europe's chemical industry change?
"The Transition Pathway for the EU chemical industry aims to support our sector’s transformation towards the European Green Deal 2050 goals. And it is a hugely significant milestone for our European chemical industry as we face some of the biggest challenges in our history. We have to drive unconventional, but promising approaches to climate protection. Not all ideas will become reality, but we have to be bold and try out new things to resolutely counter climate change. To achieve this, the adoption of the Chemicals Transition Pathway is a very important accomplishment for all of us.
Innovations will require heavy investments, and these investments need to be facilitated and accelerated by regulations that are a lever for business cases. And, of course, we need a large amount of more renewable energy, such as climate-friendly hydrogen or green electricity, at competitive prices."
Prof. Dr. Jürgen Dahlhaus is Senior Vice President Chemicals and Catalysis Research at BASF and Honorary Professor at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Department for Chemical Engineering and Process Technology. Since January 2020 he is also member of both the Board and the Scientific Advisory Council of VDI (The Association of German Engineers); chairman of VDI-GVC (VDI association “Process Technology and Chemical Engineering”). Please find further information about his CV here.
BASF is the Gold Sponsor of ECCE & ECAB 2023.
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