EPCA 53rd Annual Meeting Special Issue
Europe’s petrochemical industry faces a period of unparalleled short and longer term challenges. So it’s quite apt that organisers of this year’s European Petrochemical Association (EPCA) annual meeting have chosen as a key theme: “Writing together the next chapter of the European petrochemical industry.” Perhaps most importantly, sustainability and circular economy are driving the industry towards transformational change. What might have seemed like a side issue just a few years ago is now top of boardroom agendas, driven by widespread anger over waste plastic in the environment. For the petrochemical industry this presents some interesting topics for debate. As single use plastic bans come into force in major economies this is bound to depress demand growth for polymers, particularly high density polyethylene (HDPE). Yet in the US there is currently a wave of shale-based crackers and downstream plants coming onstream, and from 2020 China will take over as the main driver of PE capacity expansion, adding 4.81m tonnes of capacity that year, according to ICIS forecasts.
With a PE price war already under way, European chemicals CEOs may choose to accelerate investment into the recycling sector, since this will likely offer more opportunities than virgin PE for the foreseeable future. Whilst mechanical recycling is well-established in polyethylene terephthalate (PET), many see chemical recycling as the best way forward as it can deal with mixed plastics by breaking them back down into feedstocks such as naphtha. But doing this on a large scale presents huge technical and supply chain challenges.