2020 was a year that was plagued with anxiety, as the whole world not only faced the pandemic, with its political and economic turmoil, but also an increasingly urgent climate and environmental crisis, as the United Nations earnestly warned: “As early as 2030, global temperatures will reach an irreversible tipping point“. Given this situation, the CommonWealth, Future City, CSR@天下 and LCI of ECCT hosted its “2021 International Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Forum” in Taiwan yesterday, and Covestro CEO, Dr. Markus Steilemann, was invited to deliver the event’s opening remarks, on the topic of “Chemistry as a Driver of Sustainable Development“ on Mar. 25th.
“As the world continues the countdown, how can we transform?”, asked Dr. Markus Steilemann, CEO of Covestro. “By fully embracing the circular economy, we can promote sustainable growth. This increases prosperity and enables more social participation. Then we are on the right track to say in ten years’ time: the SDGs have arrived in people's lives.”
Chemistry is the mother of all industries, because many other key sectors depend upon it. Without chemistry, our modern everyday life would not be possible, and this makes chemistry one of the key sectors for sustainable development in terms of the SDGs. During Steilemann’s opening remarks, he provided some examples of how the chemical industry can contribute to the SDGs.
Although the supermarkets are almost overflowing in some parts of the world, almost ten percent of the world's population does not have enough to eat. A big problem is that much food does not reach people, because it is spoilt on the way. This applies to between 30 to 50 percent of all harvested crops. And this is where plastics can help, by building effective cooling chains using high-tech polymer foams. With them, not only can virtually every fridge be insulated, but the foams can also be used along the whole supply chain: from the warehouse to the truck to the cooling counter in the supermarket.
More than half of the world's population lives on less than eight dollars a day. Special high-performance plastics, however, can help farmers in Southeast Asia and India, for example, to stabilize their income. Using these plastics, novel solar dryers are built. And with such dryers, unsaleable harvest products, which would otherwise rot, are processed into a dry mass. This mass can then be used to produce dried fruits, fruit bars, and chocolates. In this way, crop losses can be avoided, and the income of the farmers can be secured.
Humanity sends more and more CO2. into the atmosphere every year. In 2019, emissions reached a new record of nearly 37 billion tons, and after a decrease in 2020 due to Corona they are again on the rise. Instead of sending CO2 into the atmosphere where it harms the climate, however, we can use it in a meaningful way. Following intensive research, Covestro has succeeded in using waste gas for plastic production. The company can now use up to 20 percent of CO2 to produce an important plastic building block. This helps to save crude oil, which is the main raw material. More and more end products that are based on CO2 are being marketed. It is already being used in mattresses, sports floors, and car components. Covestro’s most recent research success involves CO2-based ingredients for insulation panels, which can then be used to protect buildings against heat and cold.
The Growth of Cities
Two of every three people are expected to live in urban areas by 2050. Already, cities consume more than two-thirds of the world's energy, and generate more than 70 percent of global CO2 emissions. We can help to make renewable energies more efficient and cost-effective, however. For the interiors of wind blades, for example, Covestro has developed a new kind of resin that makes the blades much longer and stronger. This increases the yield. At the same time, the rotor blades can also be manufactured more quickly, which leads to lower costs.
“Our past behavioural patterns are obsolete. Producing, consuming, throwing away – the current path is a dead end. Instead, we need to use products for longer, and when it comes to the end of their life, we must recycle them. After all, used plastics are a valuable raw material and a substitute for crude oil as well. We also need to use biomass and CO2 as raw materials as much as possible, and to circulate the carbon that is within them, according to our vision to become fully circular,” Steilemann further said. “I would like to ask you, please do help to establish the circular economy concept worldwide. Help to change the way that people think and act! So that we can finally say that the sustainable era has arrived to make our world a brighter place!”
In addition to his position as CEO of Covestro, Steilemann is active in numerous associations and organizations. He holds the presidency of PlasticsEurope, the Association of Plastics Manufacturers in Europe. He is also Vice President of the German Chemical Industry Association (VCI). And he is on the Executive Board of the ICCA, the World Association of Chemical Associations.