The increasing viability of green solutions
Image courtesy of Pixabay
The most notable theme of over 60 interviews conducted for this report has been an industry-wide focus on sustainability. Where this used to be the realm of the large producers, now the full value chain is aligned with a push for greener products and carbon emission reduction. As the relevance of this agenda becomes more apparent each year, the economic value of sustainable solutions is also becoming clearer.
“Townsend has been conducting surveys of PP and PE buyers for over 30 years and this year, the overwhelming majority have told us they consider supplier engagement and sustainability initiatives a key factor when they are evaluating supply partners,” observed Barb Mitchell, managing director of petrochemical market research firm, Townsend Solutions. She added: “All interactions are now filtered through a green lens. 10 years ago, this would not have even been on the radar.”
Charles Fryer, senior advisor at Tecnon OrbiChem, highlighted the opportunities for Latin America to play a bigger role in the fight against climate change: “The availability of natural gas is a first step towards reducing carbon footprint, and Latam has various natural gas resources which still needs to be exploited, such as in Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil.”
Fryer pointed to discussions about a pipeline between Bolivia and the coast of Peru, and how this would benefit the chemical industry as feedstock, a source of energy, and as a means of reducing electricity costs and went on to highlight the possibility, particularly in Brazil, for bio-materials to be used to make chemicals. “There is a movement around the world towards using natural resources to make chemicals, but there is the realization that the cost for using bio-materials is higher than using petroleum or other fossil fuels. The only good news from high crude oil prices is that it makes bio-materials more competitive, which will stimulate the investment necessary for their development.”
Marcus Silva, Air Products’ general manager for Argentina & Brazil, noticed how people started to open their eyes to the biomethane market after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as natural gas prices skyrocketed and investment into local biomethane production started to make more financial sense. “Today, landfills in Brazil are starting to become professionally managed to capture and sell the biomethane that is generated.”
Silva revealed that Air Products is piloting projects using biomethane as fuel instead of diesel, commenting that hydrogen fuel cells are an important development for the future, but biomethane as fuel is a present reality. He noted that for biomethane produced in Brazil, you can have long-term contracts with price adjustment indexes which are related to local inflation and do not have any influence from commodity price fluctuations such as the price of oil. “Local production also allows for less exposure to a scarcity of products due to supply chain disruptions. Therefore using biomethane as fuel reduces business vulnerability while also addressing carbon reduction goals.”
One of the challenges in the fight against climate change is that companies are having to swim against the tide. For instance, as temperatures rise, more air conditioning and cooling is needed, requiring more energy and generating more emissions. With this in mind, Elvira Neves, Eastman’s Latin America Leader, discussed the benefits of BPA-free co-polyesters – film technologies that are effective for solar heat control. She elaborated: “They are not only used in car windows but also have been developed for glass in buildings, helping them better deflect heat and make the air conditioning and cooling of these buildings more efficient and environmentally friendly.”
Adriana Nobre, Croda’s managing director for Latin America, mentioned that the company’s Brazilian site now runs completely on renewable energy, and Croda’s carbon emission road map will support a reduction in carbon emissions by 20% in 2022 compared to 2018 figures. “Moreover, we are achieving this while increasing capacity. We have a clear roadmap for all our Latam sites to reduce carbon emissions by 50% by 2030 and to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.”
The transition to greener products requires new technologies and innovation, as well as a collaborative approach between the different actors in the industry. This is providing numerous opportunities for technology providers. For example, in 2022, Braskem inaugurated its state of the art mechanical recycling facility in Indaiatuba, operated by Valoren. Two years earlier, in 2020, Braskem and Topsoe announced they had achieved their first-ever demo-scale production of bio-based monoethylene glycol (MEG).
Discussing the steps needed to transition to more sustainable solutions, Gustavo Cienfuegos, Topsoe’s managing director for Latin America, suggested that a phased approach is practical: “As markets mature, we have been introducing more projects for blue technologies, which we believe are key to decarbonization. The world is not yet fully prepared for green technologies, as many are still very expensive compared to traditional technologies.”
Cienfuegos gave the example of Topsoe’s SynCor technology, which recovers gases and reduces the footprint of production plants by up to 80%: “This is exactly what customers need in this transition period to green technologies, to help produce ammonia and ultimately fertilizers while minimizing their carbon footprint.”
“Townsend has been conducting surveys of PP and PE buyers for over 30 years and this year, the overwhelming majority have told us they consider supplier engagement and sustainability initiatives a key factor when they are evaluating supply partners.”
Barb Mitchell, Managing Director, Townsend Solutions
José Magalhães Fernandes, president of Honeywell Performance Materials & Technologies for Latin America, spoke of the importance of increasing the scope of plastics that are recycled, particularly for those which do not have a recycling destination and are sent to waste management landfills or incinerated. “The company has developed an UpCycle Technology, which is a chemically engineered solution for converting plastics into renewable or pyrolysis oil that can be reused in the value chain. We are thus recovering waste plastics, sorting, cleaning, and processing them chemically to revert that plastic to its origin,” explained Fernandes, mentioning that Honeywell has already scaled up this technology at the lab level and is now working with Spanish company Sacyr and US waste management company Avangard Innovative to scale it up to industrial level globally. He added: “Within Latin America, specifically Brazil, we are also having discussions with waste management companies to pilot this solution and technology in the region.”
Another hot topic related to sustainability is water scarcity, an issue already severely impacting Latin American countries such as Chile, which has suffered a 12-year drought in its central region. Alejandro D´Hyver, CSR and communications manager – Latam North at Ecolab, revealed that the company helps clients save more than 215 billion gallons of water every year globally, representing the drinking water needs of 730 million people per year. He went on to highlight Ecolab’s 3D TRASAR water performance system, which uses an ecosystem interconnected with smart technology and chemistry to actively resolve issues and offer results to improve industrial operations.
D´Hyver elaborated: “More plainly put, 3D TRASAR detects alterations that occur before incrustations, such as corrosion and bio-incrustation, and provides a suitable response for each of those alterations, preventing any damage to systems in our client’s plants. It reduces operation costs, eliminates over- or under-dosing of solutions, and provides the highest protection of the assets.”