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Column: Niels Groot Water Technology professor at HZ University of Applied Sciences and water specialist at Dow Benelux

Published on
November 26, 2020

It’s an understatement that the chemical industry is facing some challenging decades. Not only the Paris agreement (95% CO2 reduction by 2050) requires fundamental changes, also the desire to transition towards fossil-free raw materials is a major undertaking. Changes in industry will go along with those in society as a whole, and are thereby subject of public debate and hence politics.

National strategies are being developed, but pathways and combinations are still open (energy sources, storage media, electrification, CCU, plastic recycling, etc.), while in parallel many of the newly required technologies are still at low Technology Readiness Levels (TRL’s). Therefore, the risk of less than optimum decisions being taken is high. New technologies are currently being developed, requiring a delicate balance between long term goals and the mid-term target of 50% CO₂ reduction by 2030.

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The role of water in this discussion is often overlooked. Although water costs may not significantly contribute to overall investments, the impact of having no water for different processes is tremendous. Also new processes will require heating, cooling or even rely on water as a raw material (like electrolysis for hydrogen production). Climate change will even further stress access to fresh water. Therefore, water experts need a seat at the table.