The Green Deal – a set of proposals to bring the EU’s climate, energy, transport and taxation policies in line to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030 – has shone a harsh spotlight on climate change.

Aiming at carbon neutrality by 2050, it includes goals and strategies for every aspect of society and the economy, with the chemical industry being seen as a major enabler of a more sustainable Europe.Industries involved in food processing, mining and construction, account for a fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions, derived from a range of industrial processes that include the on-site combustion of fossil fuels for heat, power and other non-energy related uses of fossicl fuels and chemical processes.2 Yet, as its end products are present in almost every strategic value chain, the greater chemical industry is indispensable to Europe’s strong and sustainable economy of the future.

A race against the clock

So, how do we begin to tackle the task of transforming the EU into a socially responsible, modern and competitive economy in which resources are used efficiently and there are no net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050? First, action is needed now. Of course, addressing these issues is a long-term project; but industry not only needs to rethink the way it operates today, companies must also take a future-focused approach to how they deal with waste, energy sources and raw materials.

And, no matter how innovative an organization is, there is a common theme that could and should be applied to overcoming many of the obstacles that stand in the way of the Green Deal’s goals. With a specific problem in mind, every effort should be poured into the required research and development to create and implement a solution. Quality is a given, strategic partnerships can help when it comes to remaining profitable and compliant with present and future regulations. But, in terms of jumping hurdles, there’s no alternative to a tailored and focused course of investigation, experimentation and good old-fashioned brain power.

Zero net emissions yes, but how?

Meeting the Green Deal’s objectives by reducing CO2 emissions through decarbonizing electricity, transport, heating and industry with a “sector integration” strategy – supported by higher taxes on CO2 emissions and EU carbon border taxes – was always going to be tough. Ever-rising energy prices and the diminishing fossil fuel reservoir has now made energy recovery applications more important than ever for all industrial processes. Technologies for carbon capture, storage and utilization (CCS/CCU) that involve trapping CO2 where it’s produced at factories and fossil-fuel-burning power plants before it’s released to the atmosphere are currently in high demand.

Ever mindful of sustainable manufacturing practices, GEA offers a wide range of waste heat recovery and gas pre-treatment technologies, as well as carbon capture solutions to support COreduction and carbon reuse. All are well established strategies that enable carbon footprint reduction. 

Together with the Organic Rankine Cycle (ORC) principle (where a working fluid is pumped into a superheater where it is evaporated and finally recondensed), this energy recovery technology makes possible to turn waste heat into valuable resources such as power, compressed air or steam. 

To cite an example, Saint-Gobain Group’s flat glass production lines in India (Sriperumbudur) and Italy (Pisa) are using waste heat recovery units to produce electricity and compressed aid and thermal energy for ambient heating, respectively. By investing in carbon capture, industrial plant becomes a strategic asset in the medium term by adding end-product value while preserving the environment for future generations.

Making the global energy shift possible

In the face of environmental pressure to shift to renewable energy sources and legislation to ensure the production of safe and high-quality products, achieving both goals at once might seem impossible. However, a number of solutions to reduce both your fossil fuel use and carbon footprint are available. One of which is the “electrification” of processes through the substitution of the heating source, from steam to Mechanical Vapor Recompression (MVR).

GEA offers patented and award-winning energy concepts with MVR technology that have already helped our customers to reduce their energy costs by up to 40%, as in the Midleton Distillery in Cork in Ireland, where “this new MVR concept resulted in a new technological milestone. Using an MVR heat pump, energy is recovered mechanically and reintroduced back into the distillation column in an almost virtuous circle to recover and reuse latent heat,” says David Scheiby, Business Manager - Brewing & Distilling at GEA Liquid & Powder Technologies.

Modern life as we know it

The last couple of centuries have witnessed an impressive leap forward for both our development as a society and the chemical industry. Yet, now more than ever, finding sustainable alternatives and developing renewable technologies that are capable of supporting the future of our civilization is of the utmost importance. GEA is committed to this task, not only by achieving a higher level of sustainability in the production value chain, but by accelerating the path of efficient development. We’ve already supplied decanters, separators, evaporators and fluid bed dryers for UPM Biochemicals’ new biorefining factory at Leuna, Germany, which will be used to manufacture renewable alternatives for fossil-based materials. 

GEA technologies are currently being used to make next-generation biochemicals, bioenergy and biofuels. Such is the case of Borregaard, a Norwegian biochemical leader, that is now producing biobased bulk chemicals with the help of GEA´s advanced spray drying and not only that, but it is also recovering valuable substances, increasing the total product yield, and reducing freshwater withdrawal with GEA´s scrubber technology.

 In France, GEA is helping a biotechnology company to turn the waste from sugar beet production into a range of new high value-added molecules using a patented fermentation process. These acids will form the building blocks for chemical products that will be used in the food, pharma, cosmetic, chemical and agronomy industries.

The circular economy as an answer to resource scarcity

The Circular Economy Action Plan, also part of the Green Deal, aims to make our economy fit for a green future and strengthen our competitiveness while protecting the environment and give new rights to consumers.3,4 “This ultimate push for sustainable consumption is a key driver of European jobs and economic growth, which is needed to kickstart the EU economy after the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Marco Mensink, Director General of Cefic, the European Chemical Industry Council.5,6

Here again, GEA is playing a key part. For example, thanks to the critical role that lithium plays in hundreds of applications, Li-ion batteries have become an important aspect of our everyday lives – none less so than in the auto industry’s new star, the electric vehicle (EV). Sustainable batteries and vehicles underpin the mobility of the future, which is why developing solutions to recycle the key components of battery materials is so important. GEA is currently involved in recycling projects to ensure that adequate supplies of scarce battery materials such as lithium, nickel, manganese and cobalt remain available.

This global activity includes working with companies such as Albemarle, the Australian lithium-manufacturing pioneer who created the first end-to-end lithium recovery process steps, Shenzen BTR New Energy Materials, the largest lithium battery cathode material supplier in the world who recently presented GEA with an “Excellent Supplier” award, and AMG Lithium GmbH, who’s using GEA’s crystallization technology is make battery grade products with extremely low levels of impurities.

Transforming tomorrow

As well as being part of the €14 million EU-funded PRODIAS initiative, which is working to develop sustainable technologies that will reduce the cost of producing renewable alternatives to fossil fuel-based products, GEA is committed to rethinking the manufacturing train and embracing more sustainable, less wasteful, more efficient and cost-effective processes.

By pioneering better processes with a healthier future in mind, GEA has built up a strong track record as a responsible global company. Each of its solution is designed to help save energy and water, recycle excess heat and reduce waste and emissions when possible so that sustainable processes are done using sustainable technologies.

But can more be done? GEA believes so and has raised its “green” profile. The company has pledged to incorporate its entire value chain into this effort, pursue the most comprehensive and ambitious climate strategy in the mechanical engineering industry, tackle both direct and indirect emissions and strive to reach the goal of becoming net-zero by 2040.

At ACHEMA 2022, GEA will showcase cutting-edge applications and technologies that have been designed to address the need for emission reduction, a shift in energy sources, electromobility and the circular economy. Experts will be on-stand to share their insights with customers old and new about how the company has been leading R&D innovation in a myriad of fields for many years. And will continue to do so for generations to come. Engineering for a better world.

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