I’ve always been passionate about helping companies to do well by doing good. So the decision to join Circa was an easy one – I’m part of a courageous team scaling the innovations that will enable our transition from fossil fuels. Yes, I work in renewables, renewable chemicals that is.
We live in a world dependent on petrochemicals. Most people do not realise that many of our everyday products – from clothing to plastics and even some pharmaceutical ingredients – are derived from fossil fuels.
The IEA says that the petrochemical sector accounts for approximately 11% of the global primary demand for oil and 8% of natural gas. I’m amazed that the chemical giants have been able to fly under the ‘hard to abate’ radar for as long as they have, but that is slowly changing. With one technology cycle left before we hit the critical 2030 milestone on the Net Zero roadmap, the change is well overdue.
About half of the energy inputs to the chemicals sector are consumed as “feedstock”, or raw material. Feedstocks undergo chemical transformations and ultimately are embedded in chemical products along with their carbon footprint – like the million or so plastic bottles consumed every minute around the globe. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Biotechnology has created a whole new world of materials that are made from plants not oil. And it doesn’t need to compete with food or deplete our forests. Every year, millions of tonnes of cellulose from forestry and agriculture are wasted. Yet, waste biomass can make many of the everyday products we rely on and already does in some cases.
Circa is one of those cases, making safer and sustainable biochemicals that can replace toxic petrochemicals and break our reliance on fossil fuels. It all started in Australia and now we are listed on Euronext, headquartered in Norway and building our first industrial scale biorefinery plant on the site of a repurposed coal-fired power station in the North-East of France. And the ambition is to follow that with a plant ten times larger soon after.
We are changing chemistry for good. But like any change, it comes with resistance…
Chemicals may be invisible to the end consumer, but they are literally the building blocks of everything. If we can’t make products without chemistry, then it stands to reason that sustainable products need sustainable chemistry. Just because chemicals are not a big part of the brand-consumer marketing story doesn’t mean they can be left unexamined.
Many brands keep quiet on the materials they use, apart from some recycled plastic bottles popping up in clothing lines here and there. But keeping your head down and hoping to avoid media headlines around “toxic chemicals” is a risky strategy.
As a product design principle, renewable bio-based chemistry addresses circularity and sustainability and we need to be talking about it more. Displacing our reliance on toxic fossil-based chemicals needs to be part of the conversation, and it is an essential part of our transition from fossil fuels.
I enjoy working at the intersection between innovation, sustainability and purpose. For responsible, resilient and regenerative companies, sustainable chemistry has to be part of the solution.