A growing number of companies are signing on for sustainable chemical product design and production processes. These companies use renewable raw materials, commit to eliminating waste, and avoid both solvents and the use of toxic and noxious reagents.
In Spain, companies such as Repsol, Tecnan and Axeb Biotech have undertaken sustainable processes of this type. Each one operates on its own turf and field of action, but all with a common denominator: to produce products or develop technological solutions that are compatible with their industrial activity and environmental protection.
Repsol, one of the world's leading petrochemical companies with nearly 40,000 employees around the globe, has a perfect understanding of the importance of employing more energy-efficient manufacturing processes that reduce CO2 emissions. That’s why they are eager to follow a policy based on reuse, recycling and recovery.
In the area of reuse, Repsol researcher Pilar Lafuente explains that "we evaluate possible renewable raw materials as alternatives to fossil sources, thus reducing oil consumption and our carbon footprint. In addition, under the same premise of renewable sources, we are tackling the development of new materials that generate minimal waste and that can be taken advantage of at the end of the life cycle". Or even making products that disappear as quickly as possible, which is the case with oxo-biodegradable polypropylene. This material can be used for packaging foods, make flexible sleeves for CDs, ropes, thermal underwear or even auto parts. And it is unique in that it oxidizes more quickly and breaks down better in contact with air.
The entire range of plastics in all their varieties have become omnipresent and indispensable items in daily life. Their use, explains Pilar Lafuente, enables multiple applications that benefit not only well-being but also health and safety, in addition to allowing more sustainable lifestyles, as they provide significant energy savings and are eco-efficient.
Repsol is also developing plastics with greater mechanical performance. They include thinner polyolefins which replace others that are heavier. That way, "with ever-reduced thickness and lighter weight, as occurs with packaging and containers which preserve food longer, less fuel is consumed during transportation", points out Pilar Lafuente.
The use of polyolefins for specific products is another one of the fields where petrochemical companies have made a strong commitment. Their application adds greater value and has a high technological component. This is the case with pressure pipes used to transport water and gas, insulation for power cables or photovoltaic panels.
New polypropylene pilot plant in the Tarragona Petrochemical Complex of Repsol. Photo: Repsol