07/01/2022 | Green Innovation

Interview with Daniel Witthaut | Cefic

Europe has made no secret of its aim to lead the world in becoming climate neutral by 2050. The chemical industry's role will be key, as Daniel Witthaut of Cefic outlines in this detailed interview.

ACHEMA Inspire: How important will be the chemical industry’s contribution to achieve the Green Deal goals, particularly given its size and influence?

  •  __Daniel Witthaut: Cefic supports the Green Deal and Europe’s ambition to become climate neutral by 2050, which means going through a deep transformation within just one or two investment cycles. The EU chemical industry intends to grasp the opportunities arising from the transition to a climate neutral and circular economy. The industry also provides the wheels to achieve Europe’s ambitions. Chemicals supply many strategic value chains and the industry is indispensable to Europe’s strong and sustainable future economy, as they are present in almost every strategic value chain. Reaching this goal will only be possible with the help of climateneutral and circular economy solutions which the chemical industry will develop. We want to see Europe become a global innovation hub and a hotspot for investments into breakthrough climate-neutral and circular technologies. Yet the challenge we face is immense – with only 30 years left for industry and European society as a whole to implement the necessary massive changes in energy transition and business models. The Green Deal recognises that energy-intensive industries are indispensable for transition, as solution providers to various value chains. Climate neutrality needs to be clearly defined in the upcoming Climate Law. A new industrial policy focus must be deployed to unlock the huge investments required.

ACHEMA Inspire: What will be the effect of forthcoming EU chemical legislation?

  •  __Daniel Witthaut: It puts our industry at a crucial crossroads. According to a study released by Cefic, as many as 12,000 substances could potentially be within the scope of two upcoming legislative proposals alone – the changes to Classification, Packaging and Labelling Regulation (CLP) and the application of a Generic Risk Approach (GRA). The study found that these substances could cover up to 43 per cent of the European chemical industry’s turnover.
    After applying the different weighting factors to account for uncertainty about definitions and criteria in the CSS, consultants concluded that the most likely impacted portfolio may be up to 28 per cent of the industry’s estimated turnover. The data from more than 100 European chemical companies will be used as an input to the European Commission’s impact assessments on the Classification, Packaging and Labelling Regulation and REACH, the centrepieces of EU chemical legislation. We have an enormous challenge ahead.

ACHEMA Inspire: How important a factor is research and innovation?

  •  __Daniel Witthaut: From the design phase of products to their end-of-life, the chemical industry can offer innovative solutions at every stage. When it comes to mitigating climate change, protecting natural resources and combatting environmental pollution, answers can only come from innovative solutions and cutting-edge research. Those offered by the chemical industry enable a better use of materials - through recycling and the use of alternative feedstock. This does not only benefit the chemical sector itself; it also enables downstream industries to become more circular.
    The European chemical industry invests more than 15 per cent of its value-added in new and improved manufacturing plants and processes. Annually, we invest approximately €9 billion in research and innovation for solutions in terms of going climate neutral and driving the circular economy. But we do appeal to European policymakers to create a supportive framework for innovation. EU R&D programmes should include support for chemical substance innovation, for example. We need dialogue among governments, the chemical industry and civil society to ensure that debates and decisions in an increasingly digital world are based on facts and scientific consensus.

ACHEMA Inspire: What sort of innovations have impressed you so far?

  •  __Daniel Witthaut: Many are transforming our world and enhancing our quality of life: look at healthcare, how chemistry has contributed to improving and extending human life through the likes of microchips or wearable technology. Medical patches, for example, are applied to a patient’s skin to evaluate the electrical activity in the brain, or measure blood sugar levels, body temperature, or heart rate. Beyond being functional and comfortable to wear, they leave a minimal environmental footprint. This is where technology meets chemistry.
    Then there are smart sensors incorporated into our clothes to track our pulse, breathing rate, muscle tension and form, when doing sports. Or, even if not yet on the market, tiny nanomachines could be used to make new coatings for glass and paint, enabling windows and solar panels to clean themselves by shedding dirt, and cars to repair their own scratches by knitting molecules back together.

ACHEMA Inspire: How important are partnerships in this process?

  •  __Daniel Witthaut: Collaboration is key to advancing innovations across our industry. This could be from understanding customer needs to overcoming societal challenges, and towards achieving the ambitions of the European Green Deal. Partnerships can therefore range from bilateral collaborations to multilateral partnerships. For instance, by working with customers we can adapt and develop products to fit their needs and the overall market. While breakthrough and transformational innovations come with a higher level of uncertainty, therefore multilateral partnerships are needed.
    This could involve technology providers, start-ups, universities, suppliers, customers, and customers of customers. Such an “Innovation Ecosystem” brings the required competencies together to speed up the innovation process, shorten the time to market, as well as help to de-risk the process. For such an “Innovation Ecosystem” to be successful, companies need to have the right competencies to facilitate such partnerships, particularly by ensuring a common understanding and shared vision among involved partners.

ACHEMA Inspire: On a personal level you’ve spent many years living abroad in some of the world’s most diverse cultures. How has that shaped your thinking?

  •  __Daniel Witthaut: Indeed, lived in Asia for six years, about one year in the USA and have travelled extensively all over the world. This experience has enriched me on personal level and I am very happy that I had the chance to bring my family now to Brussels, so that also my children can have the opportunity to grow up in a multicultural environment. Particularly, the experience in Asia working with colleagues from 16 very diverse countries all over Asia-Pacific has had a lasting impression on me. This experience taught me to try to get a deeper understanding before coming to any conclusion too quickly. A very simple example to demonstrate this: I once sent the same request to my 16 colleagues in the different countries, two of them did not answer. While one simply did not respond, the other did not because he was afraid to send an email to a colleague from corporate headquarters.
    A simple example, but it shows that what looks the same on the surface has very different reason which need to be addressed in different ways. Another important impact on my thinking is that while experiencing certain cultural differences, we are all human with the same feelings towards our families or the motivation to reach our goals and be appreciated. So while things might appear different on the surface, at the core, we share values regardless of nationality or background. The challenges of today can only be addressed when we work together, across borders, and I am optimistic that we can achieve future success with collaboration.


ACHEMA Inspire staff

World Show Media


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