Transport, heavy industry, power plants. These may be the usual suspects when it comes to carbon emissions. But did you know that most of the carbon used to make everything from mobile phones to cleaning products is also extracted from coal, oil and gas? And it is a trend that is only set to rise.
A report published by the nova-Institute and Unilever in April 20211 estimated that demand for fossil-derived chemicals will more than double by 2050. As a result, renewable carbon production will need to increase by a factor of 15 if it is to successfully phase out the use of fossil carbon in consumer products.
Carbon waste for chemical manufacturing
The key to achieving this goal lies in finding alternatives.
To this end, 15 key industrial players representing a £73 billion (€82.7 billion) UK sector2 and including Unilever, Society of Chemical Industry (SCI) and BASF have signed a collaboration agreement for a two-year programme committed to cutting carbon dioxide emissions from the manufacturing process.
Having secured £2.68 million (€3.04 million) of funding from Innovate UK, the project will focus on replacing fossil fuel stock with ‘captured’ carbon made from waste gases from foundation industries such as the production of metals, glass, paper and chemicals.No single company can do this alone and so to have the power of 15 manufacturers and academics marks a significant step forward not only for the UK, but globally too. Ian Howell, Unilever’s Home Care Science and Technology R&D Director
“This is an excellent example of the power of collaborative working. It is an important step for the UK and SCI’s vision of furthering the application of chemistry and related sciences into industry for public benefit,” said David Bott, SCI’s Head of Innovation.
“The new business model will aim to reduce the need for imported fossil fuel material. Instead, the consortium will build a new, more sustainable supply chain whilst also mitigating waste emissions.”
Unilever’s Home Care business has already piloted products using captured carbon emissions such as OMO laundry detergent in China, Sunlight hand dishwash in South Africa and Coral+ laundry detergent in Germany.
The power of partnership
This is, however, the first initiative that has committed to finding solutions that could work at scale and provide the step change needed to ensure that the UK, and in time the world, reaches its net zero targets.
“This is a game-changing opportunity to accelerate action and rewire the chemicals value chain to be less reliant on fossil fuels. It’s a bold ambition and one that, at Unilever, we have been publicly calling for action on over the last two years,” says Project Lead Ian Howell, Unilever’s Home Care Science and Technology R&D Director.
“No single company can do this alone and so to have the power of 15 manufacturers and academics marks a significant step forward not only for the UK, but globally too.”
2) Size of the UK chemicals and pharmaceuticals industry according to the Chemical Industries Association
Renewable Carbon News – Daily Newsletter
Subscribe to our daily email newsletter – the world's leading newsletter on renewable materials and chemicals