IPCC Sixth Assessment Report - Innovation is key

The newly published IPPC Sixth Assessment Report lays out a clear but stark picture of  climate change. It’s here already, it’s going to get worse, and human activity has unequivocally caused it. However, if human activity has got us into this mess, human ingenuity gives us the best chance to get us out of it, or to limit the damage at least. As the eyes of the world turn to Glasgow and COP26, rightly the pressure will be on for fresh political commitment, targets and leadership. Targets and leadership are great BUT talk has to translate into action, innovation and change.

There needs to be change in all aspects of how humanity operates if we are to support a fair and sustainable life for all living things who depend upon the Earth, and each other, for our existence. In a sensitive, self-correcting eco-system if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. At Britest we are proud of what we’re already doing in the slice of human activity covered by the chemicals and process industries, and determined to keep being part of the solution.

Collaborative, open research is delivering real world demonstrations of ground breaking processes which make it possible to create low-carbon, circular economic models in previously wasteful, linear value chains. The MultiCycle Innovation Action under the Horizon 2020 SPIRE Public-Private Partnership for instance, has delivered an industrial recycling pilot plant for fossil and bio-based thermoplastic multilayer packaging and fibre reinforced composites which allows recovering pure plastics and additives in mixed wastes for their later reprocessing into value-added applications. Britest is leading the training and dissemination activities in this important collaboration which will be actively disseminating its key results in the spring of 2020.

Working with our clients, Britest has embedded prompts to think about sustainability drivers from early in the innovation process into our technical facilitation methodologies for process system analysis. Through review of the whole end-to-end process, we seek to ensure that all social, environmental, business, and technical requirements are identified and set as targets, keeping technical eyes on the bigger picture prize, and bridging the gap into more formal sustainability assessments, such as LCA.

Looking ahead, we see a coming together of themes that pave the way for net zero in the process industries. Process intensification – getting more (and more quality) from ‘less process’ (smaller process footprints, less energy and materials consumed, less changeover and downtime), and Digitalisation (advanced data and model driven process design and control enabling more efficient, less wasteful, and accelerated process design and development, and more targeted individualised and flexible possibilities in manufacture) are not just drivers of economic and technological advancement, but have pivotal roles to play in ensuring that humankind can match consumption with needs within the limits of our planet’s material resources and capacity for self-regulation through its eco-systems services.

Climate change is a bigger and more relentless existential threat than COVID-19, and the necessary innovation needs to be backed to the hilt on a similar but even more determined ‘war-footing’ than the race to develop vaccines against the virus. With the necessary political will to clear any logjams in place, the response from scientists, technologists, engineers and manufacturers needs to be as clear-eyed, focused and purposeful as the IPCC’s analysis. In this race against time, innovation countering the climate crisis needs to be concerted to reach across borders and address the big issues, but remain relentlessly focused on winning local battles: in the fight to tame greenhouse gases and global warming every kilo counts.