Unilever, BASF, P&G and 12 other organizations have joined forces to scale carbon capture to help the UK reach net zero by 2050; and CCEP teams up with two more universities to continue its research into the technology and its many potential applications.
Flue2Chem: Science-based industries join forces to explore carbon-capture solutions
Image credit: SCI
15 key players representing the UK’s £73 billion chemicals and pharmaceuticals industry sector have signed a collaboration agreement to launch Flue2Chem — a program to transform the sustainability of the UK’s consumer products industry and reduce greenhouse gas emissions on a demonstration scale.
The Society of Chemical Industry (SCI, Unilever and 13 other organizations have secured funding for a two-year program to develop a new value chain to convert industrial waste gases into sustainable materials for consumer products. This comes at a time when most of the carbon used to produce plastics, cosmetics, synthetic textiles and many other products is still extracted from coal, oil and gas. If the UK is to reach its net-zero target by 2050, industries must find an alternative source for the carbon in these goods.
The £5.4 million project, which has been granted £2.68 million from Innovate UK via UK Research & Innovation’s Transforming Foundation Industries Challenge, will aim to help the UK reach its net-zero targets.
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“The great thing about Flue2Chem is not only the innovation; which is addressing decarbonisation, resource efficiency, and the circular economy piece, but the fact that it is a terrific example of how you can bring the whole supply chain together to deliver on the innovation needed,” says Bruce Adderley, Innovate UK Challenge Director for the Transforming Foundation Industries Challenge. “It no longer makes sense to work in individual silos. The foundation industries are facing challenges that cannot be tackled in isolation.”
A 2021 report published by Unilever and the Nova Institute estimated that demand for fossil-derived chemicals will more than double by 2050. As a result, renewable carbon production will need to increase by a factor of 15 if it is to successfully phase out the use of fossil carbon in consumer products.
One goal of the Flue2Chem project is to demonstrate how the UK could cut 15–20 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year. The consortium aims to scale use of waste gases from foundation industries such as the production of metals, glass, paper and chemicals to generate an alternative source of carbon for UK consumer product production.
Aside from the technical aspects of the project, the business model development will frame the economic incentives that will likely be required to make the model work. The project will bring together partners from across the whole supply chain to achieve this. In addition to SCI and Unilever, the other consortium partners are BASF, Carbon Clean, Centre for Process Innovation, Confederation of Paper Industries, Croda, Holmen, Johnson Matthey, Procter & Gamble, Reckitt, Tata Steel, the University of Sheffield, the University of Surrey and UPM-Kymmene — organizations that encompass the capture, transformation and use of the carbon emissions in industry.
The UK imports large amounts of carbon-containing feedstocks each year for use in consumer goods. Securing an alternative domestic source of carbon for these goods is one way in which these sectors can contribute to net-zero targets, while also building a new UK value chain.
“This is an excellent example of the power of collaborative working. It is an important step for the UK and SCI’s vision of furthering the application of chemistry and related sciences into industry for public benefit,” David Bott, SCI’s Chief Innovation Officer. “The new business model will aim to reduce the need for imported fossil fuel material. Instead, the consortium will build a new, more sustainable supply chain whilst also mitigating waste emissions. The group will develop methods for using carbon captured from waste streams of other industries and transform them into affordable raw materials for consumer products.”
Unilever Home Care has already piloted products using captured carbon emissions such as OMO laundry detergent in China, Sunlight dishwashing liquid in South Africa and Coral+ laundry detergent in Germany.
“This is a game-changing opportunity to accelerate action and rewire the chemicals value chain to be less reliant on fossil fuels,” says Project lead Ian Howell, Unilever’s Home Care Science & Technology R&D Director and Chair of SCI’s Sustainable Materials for Consumer Products Group. “It’s a bold ambition and one that, at Unilever, we have been publicly calling for action over the last two years. No single company can do this alone; so, to have the power of 15 manufacturers and academics marks a significant step forward not only for the UK, but globally too."
CCEP Ventures invests in new partnerships to upcycle CO₂
Image credit: Meghan Schiereck
Meanwhile, CCEP Ventures (CCEPV), the innovation investment arm of Coca-Cola Europacific Partners, has formed two new partnerships — with Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona, Spain and the University of Twente in the Netherlands — to accelerate their research into carbon-capture technology.
Through these R&D projects, CCEPV will explore how captured CO₂ can be turned into useful products for the supply chain including packaging materials and sugar, used to carbonate CCEP’s soft drinks, or to create synthetic fuels to power its factories. The research aims to develop new technology that can be used on-site and is the latest in a series of partnerships from CCEPV to support a more sustainable future — building on a similar partnership with UC Berkeley launched in 2022.
"We are challenging ourselves to think differently about CO₂, which is so often only seen as a dangerous waste product,” says CCEPV co-founder Craig Twyford. “What if we could not only take CO₂ out of the atmosphere, where we know it’s causing harm, but also turn it into something useful? Then we could start thinking of it as a valuable resource.
“Funding these projects is an exciting opportunity for us to be at the forefront of scientific discovery and innovation,” he added. “We think it has the potential not only to significantly impact our operations, but it could also be rolled out across different industries to reduce GHG emissions and make better use of the carbon in our atmosphere.”
These partnerships are part of CCEPV’s efforts to find, fund and foster transformative solutions that can support CCEP in reaching its ambitions to achieve a 30 percent reduction of absolute GHG emissions across its value chain by 2030 and net zero by 2040.