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The functional economy in the chemical industry: 8 case studies demonstrate efficiency and sustainability

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Project elaborated in partnership: 
Submitted by: 
CIRCE Foundation
Start/End date: 
01/2013 to 01/2018

Type of funding:

Royal Haskoning DHV

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Take Back Chemicals is a Belgian (Flemish) & Dutch initiate to study the applicability of "chemical leasing" to its own chemical industry. This business model aims to increase the effectiveness of the use of chemicals as well as to reduce waste from chemical use. Chemicals, in this business model, once spent by a particular firm (chemical user) are then sent back to be "regenerated" so as to be used again in the same or a similar chemical process. This model has two main advantages over the traditional business model.

Firstly, a reduction of chemical inputs from outside sources, as the spent chemicals, instead of being discarded as waste, will be regenerated to be able to be used again by the chemical users.

Secondly, the property rights of the chemicals are modified. Instead of selling virgin chemicals and re-buying spent chemicals, the company that produces/distributes this chemical  leases the chemicals to the chemical user, who now pays for a service, i.e. the use of the chemical in its process. This creates an alignment of incentives: the volume of chemicals used is optimized by the producer who is granted access to the specific use of the chemical by the user. This alignment between producer and user of chemicals leads to intensified partnership, with the aim of optimizing the overall process. The lease price of the chemical is influenced by the volume of chemicals used and by the ability to regenerate the spent chemical.

This report is based on the study of 3 cases in Belgium and 5 cases in the Netherlands:

  • Johnson & Johnson (Optimal reuse of cleaning solvents)
  • Tessenderlo Chemie (Improving the use of acid and reducing the generation of sludge during the galvanisation process)
  • Solvay (Reusing spent sulfuric acid which is diluted during process of the drying chlorine gas)
  • Cargill (The use of less concentrations of phosphates in the effluent, strengthening the factories license to operate)
  • Dow (Reusing  salt)
  • Suez Environment (Being able to keep an essential material (solvent) in a close loop)
  • Vlisco (Finding different chemical alternatives; co-development for substition)
  • Hexion (Optimal reuse of a catalyst)
Main results: 

For the time being, 3 different cases in Belgium and 5 different cases in The Netherlands are evaluated. An adaptation of the actual production considering the new business model is evaluated on a conceptual level together with the procurement and technical department of the different partners.

A majority of industries are convinced of the importance and the need for finding options for waste free production and recognize the possibilities for the introduction of this new business model.

This concept aims to reach a waste-free production quality standard and gets the advantage of relief for the chemical user from regulatory tasks such as waste-handling legislation. The suggested regulatory framework for a waste free production environment is the REACH Regulations. The increased efficiency in chemical use and reduction of waste benefits the environment from a material and GHG point of view.