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A circular and carbon-neutral process industry in 2050: how to get there?

Almost all of the products we use are made by the process industry. It is a gigantic sector, that also faces a gigantic challenge in the coming decades: becoming fully circular and carbon-neutral. Media platform Change.inc asked ISPT’s Klaartje Rietkerken and Tjeerd Jongsma this question: “How can the process industry accomplish this monster task?”.  

Dit interview is ook beschikbaar in het Nederlands

The transition of the process industry is becoming increasingly complex. So complex, that companies can no longer do it alone, states Tjeerd Jongsma to Change.Inc. There is a need for solutions and innovations and that requires cooperation between multiple companies and in multiple links of the chain. Therefore, ISPT has a clear and ambitious goal in mind: a CO2-neutral and circular process industry in 2050. In this interview with Change.Inc Klaartje Rietkerken and Tjeerd Jongsma talk about how to achieve a fully circular and carbon-neutral process industry in 2050.

A challenge, but also an opportunity

“Cross-sectoral collaboration is indispensable. But such unique collaborations are not set up overnight. That is why the process industry needs an independent and reliable party that provides a safe setting where such collaborations can emerge,” says Klaartje Rietkerken, director of operations at ISPT. “We take on this directing and organizing role. We develop sustainability programs in consultation with the industry, put the right people and companies around the table to implement them, and initiate projects that lead to a more sustainable process industry. Then, we communicate the results to the rest of the Netherlands so that everyone can learn from them. And we do this with a team of passionate experts.” 

At the moment the process industry is responsible for about 35% to 40% of total CO2 emissions in the Netherlands. And those emissions have already been reduced tremendously in recent decades. The industry has already made a good effort to save on energy, be energy efficient, improving systems and processes. So, what else can we do? “Companies have to make an impact together. It’s a challenge, but also a great opportunity,” says Tjeerd Jongsma.  

What does the Dutch process industry do? And what does sustainable process technology mean? We’re happy to explain in this article: (sustainable) process technology explained.

Our process industry is responsible for about 35% to 40% of total CO2 emissions in the Netherlands

Renewable electricity is becoming the new norm

“Fossil fuels and oil products, for example, have always formed the basis of the process industry, but renewable electricity is becoming the new norm. This is radical: processes need to be redesigned and chains rearranged. It illustrates how complex transitions are today. Most of the low-hanging fruit has already been picked. Now, it is time to make real choices,” Klaartje Rietkerken adds.

What is the main challenge?

According to Tjeerd Jongsma, the challenges can roughly be divided into 3 transitions: the energy transition, the materials transition and the transition in the agrifood sector. “Each transition has its own challenges. For example, availability of energy is an important issue in the energy transition. Will there be enough sustainable energy available on short notice to keep the process industry running as it is? This is far from self-evident. After all, every country wants to make the transition to renewable energy at the same time. So scarcity does lurk.”

Klaartje Rietkerken: “Availability is also an important issue in materials transition. For example, the Netherlands is a major producer and exporter of plastics. If you want to turn that (currently) linear system into a circular one, the export products must somehow find their way back to us. That’s a big logistical challenge on an international scale.” 

The Dutch ‘polder mentality’ might be key to the solution

Tjeerd Jongsma: “The solution lays in the connection. Between companies, between sectors and between links in the chain. Directing parties such as ISPT are indispensable here, to facilitate those connections. Besides, I believe that the Netherlands is a suitable country to give shape to this. Thanks to our ‘polder mentality’, we are used to talking to each other, finding solutions together and taking up the gauntlet together. I therefore expect that the Dutch process industry can take a leading position in the sustainability challenges.” 

“For example, recently, the 4 major dairy cooperatives in the Netherlands sat down with us to jointly draw up and communicate a strategy for regenerative agriculture. The same goes for Tata Steel and Dow Chemicals, who are investigating with us whether residual streams from the steel industry can serve as raw materials for the chemical sector. And another good example: due to the energy crisis, greenhouses that run on natural gas are now at a standstill. But greenhouses that get their heat from data centers are still running. That integration of sectors, that’s where we have to go.” 

Technically, it can be done

To conclude, Tjeerd Jongsma and Klaartje Rietkerken state they are positive the industry can meet their sustainability goals before 2030 and 2050. “Everyone in the process industry, right up to the boardroom, endorses the importance of sustainability. And, not unimportantly, many companies are willing to publicly commit to sustainability ambitions. This is a great development, which has happened quickly. 10 years ago, it was still special if you were engaged in this topic, now the entire sector is doing it. In addition, the process industry has made great strides in the past. So we know we can make an impact, we know it can be done.” 

“And technically, we live in an age where anything is possible. Blast furnaces can run on hydrogen, airplanes can fly on clean kerosene. Not everything is economically viable yet, and not everything will be. Therefore, we have to asks ourselves the question: which products (with the highest added value) can we continue to make with the energy that is available? In other words, not all industries have a future in the Netherlands. Some companies won’t survive, but there will also be a lot of great companies coming up. But we can achieve the ambition of a circular and CO2-neutral process industry, especially in the Netherlands.”

More on Tjeerd en Klaartje

Tjeerd Jongsma is ISPT’S Managing Director. His passion and vision to tackle the societal challenge of the energy and raw materials transition eventually brought him to ISPT where he took up the position of Managing Director in 2010.

Klaartje Rietkerken is  our director of operations. She plays a key role within ISPT because of her expertise in matching the right people and accelerating the sustainability journey of our partners.

Tjeerd Jongsma & Klaartje Rietkerken
Tjeerd Jongsma en Klaartje Rietkerken

This article was previously published on change.inc in Dutch. For press inquiries or interview requests, please contact our PR Manager Liesbeth Looman.