Digitalisation has the power to transform the European chemical industry, revolutionising the sector’s solutions and enabling a circular, more sustainable economy in line with the EU Green Deal objectives. This exciting potential is highlighted in a new report from Arthur D. Little and Cefic, the European Chemical Industry Council, which details how technologies like artificial intelligence, big data, Internet of Things, digital twins, robotics, virtual/augmented reality, and blockchain can accelerate the industry’s transformation.
The study titled “Digital Technologies for Sustainability in the European Chemical Industry“, is the first ever attempt to outline how these technologies are used in the chemical sector and how they can be scaled up to make the chemical industry’s processes and products more sustainable .
Dr. Daniel Witthaut, Executive Director for Innovation at Cefic, emphasises that while the EU chemical industry has already implemented digitalisation in various applications, there is still much more that can be done: “Digitalisation in the chemical industry is not new with multiple players already applying digital technologies in their fields. However, enormous opportunities exist for the industry to reach their sustainability goals faster through the application of the latest digital technologies – a journey that is just beginning for most players. And this is where we also need to work more closely with EU institutions to remove existing bottlenecks, improve data sharing and create a larger pool of homegrown talent to implement all these new technologies”.
According to the research, digital technologies can make the greatest contribution in five priority areas in both large and small companies in the EU:
- process design and production for climate and circularity objectives,
- sustainability assessment,
- enabling materials and chemicals circularity through tracking and tracing,
- sustainable product design, and
- safe and efficient logistics and distribution.
Dr. Michaël Kolk, Managing Partner at ADL, adds: “Chemical companies in Europe are not only working on their own sustainability objectives, but also providing solutions that serve as enablers for many downstream industries to reach their own. The picture is complex, but we believe that collaboration via greater digitalisation is the way forward.”
Challenges to implementing digital tech in EU chemical industry
The report also highlights a number of challenges that must be addressed to fully realise the potential of digital technologies. These include technological challenges such as data availability, interoperability, standardisation and cybersecurity as well as reluctance among companies to share data, financial costs, organisational issues, and a shortage of digital skills in the workforce. Greater collaboration between EU institutions and the chemical industry will be needed to address some of these bottlenecks.