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From ZEOCAT-3D to Zero Pollution

Is the new EU Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability influencing the work of ZEOCAT-3D?
Read more about how the project is both affected by it and contributing to its goals.

As part of its “zero pollution ambition”, a core commitment within the EU Green Deal, on 14 October 2020 the European Commission published the “Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability towards a toxic-free environment”. What happened since then?

While the Commission recognises that chemicals are crucial for the well-being and comfort of modern society, it does not disregard that their hazardous properties can harm both the environment and human health. Chemicals are used in many sectors which are strategic to prosperity, such as health, energy, mobility and housing. Addressing the way chemical sare manufactured, treated and disposed of is among the building blocks of a low-carbon, zero pollution and energy and resource-efficient society.

Although the EU’s pre-existing regulatory framework for chemicals was already sophisticated and globally recognised as a model for safety standards, the Commission is well aware that the global chemical industry is expected to double in size by 2030. In addition, according to the Eurobarometer 2020, Europeans are gradually becoming more concerned about the effects the chemicals present in daily-use products have on their health (84%) and about the impact they have on the environment (90%).

Determined to fully enable the yearned goal of a digital and green transition to protect the environment and human health, especially of vulnerable groups, the EU could not avoid reviewing its existing strategy and related policies to reset them and efficiently respond to the growing challenges posed by chemicals.

For these reasons, the Chemicals Strategy appoints for increased investments and technological innovation for the chemical industry to provide safe and sustainable chemicals. The document highlights the need for chemicals that are sustainable by design and produced through non-toxic material cycles. The Commission commits to issue new regulations and classifications, as well as destinate funding to innovate industrial productions in the chemical sector.

In particular, the strategy mentions biomethane as having a decisive role in energy production. As the Commission foresees renewed efforts to support chemical strategic value chains for technologies and applications relevant for the green and digital transition, we can infer that these will include the use of biogas and biomethane beyond energy production.

To this respect, ZEOCAT-3D is already betting on sustainable sources to transform methane into high-value chemicals, playing an increasingly relevant part in the implementation of the Chemicals Strategy and the attainment of the connected EU Action Plan Towards a Zero Pollution for Air, Water and Soil, recently released in May 2021.

Dirty water stems from rusty pipe
The EU Chemicals Strategy Aims at boosting the investment and innovative capacity for production and use of chemicals that are safe and sustainable by design and throughout their life cycle, playing a leading role globally by championing and promoting high standards and not exporting chemicals banned in the EU. Picture source: FreePik Premium

Since the announcement of the Chemicals Strategy, the EU Commission has not been laying idle. Between March and May 2021, it selected a Commission of Experts to oversee and stimulate its implementation. Moreover, it published two Inception Impact Assessments and roadmaps to revise  the Regulation on hazard classification, labelling and packaging of chemicals (CLP) and the regulation concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH).

The latter is particularly relevant to the ZEOCAT-3D project since the REACH obliges any industrial sector working with and on chemicals to collect chemical safety information and use it to develop and apply appropriate risk management measures. It also makes it mandatory to communicate these measures to users of chemicals and document the process in registration dossiers for submission to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA). In fact, ECHA also prepares five-yearly reports on the operation of REACH and CLP, with the latest having been released on 1 June 2021.

The ongoing assessment of the REACH regulation aims at bridging the current knowledge gaps on new substances also by including specific and more thorough evaluations on carcinogenicity, neurotoxicity, immunotoxicity and endocrine disruption. As ZEOCAT-3D converts methane into aromatics, such as benzene and naphthalene, it is worth keeping an eye on policy developments, to see how the revision of the regulations will affect such products’ respective manufacturing and value chains.

For example, the fact that benzene is classified as a highly hazardous substance to human health and the environment (by both the CLP and the REACH) has a range of consequences on how the ZEOCAT-3D project is operating. Considerations related to the hazardousness of benzene influence the way the catalytic process (methane dehydroaromatisation) is structured, the very nature of the 3D-printed catalyst, the building of the reactor and how it will be put to function in its pilot application.

The consortium members are already in the process of considering the project’s environmental impact at different levels, from nanoparticles to zeolites production and from 3D printing processes to the prototype reactor. They are investigating and keeping under scrutiny all potential health and safety risks involved.

While the EU Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability is already out there, the path to implementation is still long and tortuous, especially when it will come to enforcing the revised regulations at the country level. On a merely practical side, though, the Key Exploitable Results EU projects such as ZEOCAT-3D are working on can be game-changing and provide a further push to the EU ambition of zeroing pollution and creating a toxic-free environment.

Is there anything more you would like to know about the legislative framework related to the chemical (methane and aromatics), biochemical (biogas and biomethane) and clean energy sector? Consult the ZEOCAT-3D Multi-Stakeholder Platform section dedicated to Policies & Legislation.


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