For the first time since the industrial revolution, technology allows us to decouple the chemical, plastics, fibre and other material industries from the use of fossil carbon. This describes a fundamental game changer, which inherits the potential for significant impact on climate protection, since most of the embedded carbon in global commodities and consumer goods finds its way into the atmosphere.
The last few decades have given rise to multiple technological pathways to completely replace fossil carbon with sources of renewable carbon: biomass, direct CO2 utilisation (from industrial flue gases or the atmosphere), and recycling. The renewable carbon strategy provides companies a framework for future investments by creating sufficient space to operate. It also provides a strategic direction to be freed from fossil carbon dependency, ultimately eliminating fossil carbon utilisation altogether. This material transformation is driven by international brands and start ups, initiated and conducted by the German nova-Institute.
While for decades the focus in climate protection has been predominantly placed on the energy sector, a more holistic approach including the renewable carbon strategy has also been positively received outside of the chemical and material industries. In December 2020, the Bioenergy International Journal pointed out, that the International Energy Agency recently highlighted ‘blind spots’ of the global energy system. The journal highlights the importance of petrochemicals, their prevalence in everyday products and their required use to manufacture many parts of the modern energy system. The Renewable Carbon Initiative (RCI) addresses the core problem of climate change, which is largely related to extracting and using additional carbon from the ground. The more we extract from under the ground, the more we are adding to the problem above the ground.
Hence, the growing interest from various key sectors is hardly surprising with an increasing number of companies and partner associations joining the RCI, which was only recently founded in September 2020. Together with nova-Institute, the board members of 11 pioneer companies set the path of the initiative, keeping decision making processes lean and management efficient. The RCI is jointly directed by all members, for example through participation in thematic working groups. This facilitates the exchange of knowledge and experiences and allows members to bring their own proposals to the table, to address matters that concern them the most, and discuss them in the community. Currently, RCI is aiming at fostering networks among its members and building new value chains to replace fossil carbon by biomass, CO2 utilisation and recycling.
Since its launch, the initiative has been busy raising awareness and reaching out to industry, policy and the public. Besides creating a webpage with comprehensive information and press releases on current policy issues such as the European Green Deal, the RCI regularly holds public webinars to address questions around renewable carbon (www.renewable-carbon-initiative.com/events/).
More background and position papers to promote and push for the renewable carbon strategy will be published soon as well as a cartoon as a playful option for sharing and understanding the renewable carbon message. Moreover, the development of a label for products that use renewable carbons is on its way, as is the establishment of an online renewable carbon community. A growing number of working partnerships with other stakeholder organisations like CO2 Value Europe or Textile Exchange as well as participation in events such as the ‘Renewable Materials Conference’ have already been established and further joint activities are under development. In summary, the RCI’s activities reflect the needs of its members: awareness raising for renewable carbon, lobbying for the strategy, networking and building new value chains to replace fossil carbon by biomass, direct CO2 utilisation and recycling.
Michael Carus, CEO and the ‘renewable carbon head’ at nova-Institute, commented on the rapid success of the initiative: ‘Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come. I can't explain the success any other way. It was obvious that the embedded fossil carbon had to come into focus in the world of chemistry and materials now that there are far reaching strategies for the energy sector. For two reasons: with the increasing decarbonisation of the energy sector, the GHG emissions of material use are becoming increasingly visible and relevant. Moreover, the chemical and plastics industry in particular needs a sustainable strategy that gives it enough leeway to become an accepted part of the future again. The time is right and new companies are joining the Renewable Carbon Initiative every month, so we see a strong momentum and are happy that the members seem to be very satisfied with our leadership.’
Christopher vom Berg from nova-Institute, added: ‘The medium term goal is to enlarge the initiative to more than 100 members from all business areas to drive transformational change across value chains and develop strategy, raise awareness, implement specific projects, increase networking, and push towards the creation of new value chains. So far, most members come from Europe. But we see this evolving, with several companies from the US already on board and first companies from Asia inquiring. The need for comprehensive reforms is universal, the chemical industry is changing worldwide.