Curbing carbon emissions: innovation and unity in the face of climate change
The European Union (EU) continues to enforce an environmentally conscious economic strategy. Simply put “the EU has set itself the goal of becoming a climate-resilient society by 2050, fully adapted to the unavoidable impacts of climate change” and the legislation to enact such a change has been further outlined by the EU as of 2021. The latest action adopts a series of legislative proposals to help meet the 2050 long term goal as well as the intermediary target of a 55% reduction to greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Not only must companies operating within the EU become carbon neutral by 2050, they must also look to cut carbon emissions by more than half over the next nine years. Such an undertaking is therefore a key priority for the foam and adhesives supply chain.
What does this mean for the foam and adhesives supply chains?
The transition to carbon neutrality will mean a transition for the foam and adhesives supply chains. As with all supply chains there will need to examine existing manufacturing and processing techniques to increase efficiency, minimize excess energy usage and waste. There also needs to be further development of circular economy efforts when it comes to products themselves.
For foams, the necessity will be the effective reusing, repurposing, or recycling of materials and finding ways to incorporate non-virgin feedstock into viable applications. For example, recycled foams can often be found in carpet underlay or even footwear. Careful development is necessary to ensure a material meets the application specifications. Foams, due to the blowing process, have a particular structure which cannot always be replicated exactly using non-virgin materials. Polyurethanes for example, have tended to be repurposed as opposed to recycled due to the challenge in replicating the required mechanical properties in non-virgin feedstock. Bead foams however, such as expanded polypropylene, can be recycled with relative ease and used in a number of end user applications again and again. Navigating the end-of-life options for foams can be challenging but the rewards speak for themselves. Taxation on virgin plastics within the EU helps to make research and development into new uses for non-virgin materials an exciting opportunity.
For adhesives, the key objectives are to reduce volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and to prevent material contamination during product disassembly. If materials contain even trace amounts of an adhesive when being broken down for recycling, it can cause the whole batch to become unusable. Fear of contamination has led to many OEMs including BMW to look at transitioning back to mono materials. Multimaterials had been slowly adopted due to the advanced capabilities they can provide such as improved durability and flexibility as well as reducing a components weight. Currently, there are limited methods of effectively disassembling products that companies are looking to return to mono materials to ensure end-of-life viability. The adhesives supply chain therefore has a vested interest in finding ways of disassembling multi-materials as this would allow OEMs to combine their advanced mechanical properties with the ability to effectively disassemble products during end-of-life.
A method of reducing petrochemical usage, which simultaneously lessens taxation and environmental impact, is the use of bio-content. Bio-content can be used in both adhesives and foams with surprising results. Plant based materials from vegetables, futures, plants and even algae can be refined to produce feedstock for polymer development.
What underpins these valuable initiatives is a moral imperative to protect the environment. Companies are paying attention to how we interact with the world, and it is beginning to lead to some very important change. This is an opportunity to not only save the planet but to meet consumer demand which is looking for sustainable solutions and to remain cost competitive as legislation makes environmentally conscious solutions the smartest way to do business.