Going full circle with renewables

The call for more sustainability in the petrochemicals industry is not entirely new, and it’s only getting louder. Organisations must now ask themselves: How do they re-evaluate and re-invent current business models to fit a changing market?

According to Jonatas Melo, Senior Vice President (Asia South) at Borouge, the call for sustainability has gone far beyond a simple practicality. In fact, he says, it’s a necessity.

“Fundamentally speaking, circularity is something we all need to practice so we can ensure the energy transition takes place.” He asserts. “The question that I think every industry is now trying to answer is this: ‘How do we make this play, and how do we apply the business models associated with this circularity to better suit us?’”

One man’s waste… Is another’s business model

As a joint venture between ADNOC and Borealis, Borouge provides innovative plastics solutions for the energy, infrastructure, mobility, packaging, healthcare and agriculture industries, and is the world’s largest integrated polyolefin complex.

When it comes to recycling polyolefins, challenges associated with the process include the fact that polyolefins tend to be packaged together with other solutions, in layers upon layers.

Says Melo, “Think about a bag of potato chips. We see one package, but in reality each bag is composed of eight to ten layers put together, and this is obviously very challenging to recycle. What the industry is now moving toward is called mono-material solutions, which are highly recyclable.”

Like the name suggests, mono-materials are products which are only composed of a single type of material. Because they only consist of a single material, mono-materials are typically easier to recycle, and consume less energy – making the overall recycling process faster, more efficient, less energy-intensive, and more cost-effective.

One example that Borouge has on hand for such solutions lies in an everyday item that most don’t think twice about.

“If you look at toothpaste tubes,” says Melo, “they’re normally made from more than one specific material, and how we enable this transition to a more renewable solution to happen is by finding a solution where mono-materials are utilized.

As the industry develops, we will look more and more into what we currently see as waste, and view it as a future resource, examining how petrochemical players and other industries can use this. We know it can be difficult – but we also need to see this as an opportunity to face industry challenges and find solutions to more complex problems such as mono-materials.”

Although Melo concedes that this rate of adoption is dependent on an organisation’s footprint and operational facilities, he stresses that the re-hauling of current business models “isn’t even a question at this point” and that refinery and petrochemical players will need to find a way to operate in this new environment, no matter how slowly.

A transforming industry

As consumers change, so do their demands – and so does the industry, testing limits and capabilities of enabling circularity. One such growing issue is enabling the support and reuse of recycled byproducts, when it comes to petrochemicals.

For Borouge, this isn’t a problem thanks to their Bornewables range, a portfolio of circular polyolefin products made from renewable feedstock that’s derived from waste and residue streams. Melo says, “This is basically industrial waste that’s recycled, and has a different CO2 footprint, and is an exciting project that’s enabling us to be more circular.”

He adds that with digitalization and sustainability big issues that companies cannot ignore, innovation will come down to which companies are able to adapt. “They have to consider this both from an operator’s and customer’s point of view… Their ability to change depending on how market conditions look is something that different players have already established for a long time.”

In uncertain times, it’s adaptability that can – and will – decide if a company sinks or swims into a future that they must be prepared to face. For industry players, the future is volatile; and resilience and adaptability the only certainties.