Dr. Bob Maughon, Executive Vice President Sustainability, Technology & Innovation, and Chief Technology and Sustainability Officer, SABIC
1. In today’s challenges how has SABIC helped to retain the no 2 chemical company worldwide?
From making transportation more fuel-efficient, to helping conserve the world’s water supply, to delivering increased crop yields, and enabling colourful and durable smartphone cases, we find solutions to the challenges of today to help our customers achieve their ambitions and build a better tomorrow. Our vision, values and resilience continue to power the ongoing transformation of everything we do. As our chairman observed, we are positioned well to address the megatrends and how they interact with certain characteristics of our industry. We have increased focus within our portfolio and maintained our cost and efficiency discipline without compromising on operational safety or reliability. Our agility has been a key driver of growth. Today, global trade, technology and sustainability need real-world targets linked to operational excellence, ESG performance, operational safety and business growth. We continue to build competencies in this regard, which helps us pursue profitable growth while adhering to ESG imperatives.
Our portfolio is deep and rich across petrochemicals, agri-nutrients and metals, while our presence in around 50 countries worldwide means we are close to our customers with the ability and agility to anticipate and respond to their changing needs.
2. You have mentioned that every year SABIC comes out with 150+ products; what all products are used worldwide and how are they helping in sustaining the environment worldwide?
SABIC is a market leader in key products such as ethylene, ethylene glycol, methanol, MTBE, polyethylene, polypropylene, polycarbonate, and engineering plastics. Petrochemicals, our largest strategic business unit, accounts for the bulk of the company’s total production, while SABIC Agri-Nutrients Company produces a wide variety of fertilizers – from general to highly specialized. Our Specialties business creates value for customers with its unique chemistries and new formulation and application development capabilities.
In terms of how our products help sustain the environment, SABIC is today a forerunner in efforts to transform low quality, mixed plastic waste otherwise destined for incineration or landfill into high quality and safe consumer packaging for food, beverage, personal and home care products.
In 2019, we already announced the launch of our certified circular polymers from advanced recycling of used plastics to be used in packaging solutions for a variety ofconsumer products that have now been introduced into the market. We continue to grow our efforts in circular plastics through Trucircle TM , bringing solutions for
certified circular polymers, certified renewable polymers, mechanical recycling solutions, and services including Design for Recycling and Closed Loop Solutions. SABIC is also a founding member of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, a global collaboration that enshrines the responsibilities and actions agreed by members across the entire plastics value chain to support the Circular Economy.
3. Can you name some of the products which are used day by day by consumer?
At any given moment in time, millions of customers around the world are using our products including polymers, chemicals, agri-nutrients and metals. For example, Ethylene Vinyl Acetate (EVA) is a copolymer resin that is used for its lightweight and excellent foamability performance. The material is used in the footwear, sports, and leisure applications
Polyurethanes (PU), materials produced by mixing a Polyol with a different diisocyanate, e.g Toluene diisocyanate (TDI) or Methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI ) with other chemical and additives, help deliver materials that can be used in furniture/bedding, construction, insulation, automotive and Case (coatings, adhesives, sealants and elastomers).
We are also a global leader in the fertilizers industry supplying comprehensive portfolio of nitrogen-based inorganic products, used by farmers. Further, during the pandemic, we helped meet the surge in demand for plastic, driven by the manufacturing of personal protective equipment (PPE), masks, syringes and other healthcare accessories, a majority of which are made of polymers such as polycarbonate (PC), polyurethane (PU), and polypropylene (PP).
4. SABIC has been the biggest producer of Methanol in which all plants Methanol produced?
We are the market leader in key products such as methanol as well as ethylene, ethylene glycol, MTBE, polyethylene, polypropylene, polycarbonate, and engineering plastics. These are manufactured at our plants across the world, including in Saudi Arabia.
5. You mentioned about pyrolysis technology, what is your opinion about pyrolysis and how it can be useful for feedstock?
SABIC was the first petrochemicals company in the world to announce a project to scale-up advanced recycling via a process that takes mixed used plastic and returns it back to their original form for commercial applications.
This advanced recycling process breaks mixed used plastic down into its basic chemical elements, through a process called pyrolysis. This ultimately enables toproduction of recycled plastics which have identical properties to unprocessed prime material, allowing plastics to be recycled repeatedly without a loss in quality or performance.
In Europe, we have advanced this process wherein we produce our certified circular polymers through feedstock recycling of low quality, used mixed plastic that could otherwise be incinerated or sent to landfills. Through pyrolysis, plastic is heated at an extremely elevated temperature in an oxygen-free environment, producing pyrolysis oil, which is further refined and upgraded for use as feedstock. The feedstock is then used to produce virgin polymers that have identical properties to fossil-based polymers, allowing plastics to be recycled repeatedly with no loss of properties or characteristics. The finished circular products are then supplied to our customers for a variety of applications, including food-contact packaging, personal and home care products, and healthcare – to name just a few. Our certified circular products have been used in the production of seven million ice cream tubs for Unilever’s Magnum brand, which is also sold in India.
To scale up supply of certified circular products, SABIC and Plastic Energy are building a new plant in the Netherlands to convert end-of-life plastics into recycled oils to create virgin polymers. This process can be leveraged in India as well. We can equip Indian companies with our technology to help them purify oil made from
plastic waste to create a cleaner pyrolysis oil devoid of impurities like chloride, and then use it in their assets. SABIC can also play a strategic role in helping companies with their market strategy for such products. So, the goal is to broaden that next plastic to the broadest specification possible.
6. You mentioned that SABIC is the largest Carbon dioxide Capturer, how has this helped in your manufacturing technology?
Addressing climate change and reducing the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is one of the greatest challenges the international community faces. At SABIC, we have responded by taking one step further. Rather than just reducing CO2 emissions, we understand how this compound can be transformed to benefit
the world, driving value where others only see a liability.
We have built a mega carbon capture and utilization (CCU) plant that opened in 2015 at United, a SABIC affiliate, and is the largest facility of its kind in the world. It uses proprietary technology to capture 500,000 metric tons (MT) of CO2 per year from the production of ethylene glycol that would otherwise be emitted into the atmosphere, converting it into feedstock for industrial processes. To put things in perspective, over 11 million trees would need to be planted to capture the equivalent amount.
Our journey to create the world’s largest CCU plant began with identifying ways we could more efficiently use resources and reduce the amount of emissions into the atmosphere. We also developed a purification process unit to remove impurities from the CO2 vent stream. Once the CO2 is purified, it is then channelled through a
network to other SABIC affiliates, where it is used to produce:
- Urea – a key agri-nutrient that enables more plentiful harvests
- Methanol – a building block for many other chemicals that we use daily
- Liquefied CO2 – used widely in the food and drink industry
7. SABIC has been working on taking back Pet bottle and recycling it, are you able to work on PET as rpet?
Yes, indeed. In fact, in 2019, we launched our LNP Elcrin iQ portfolio of polybutylene terephthalate (PBT) compounded resins derived from recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET) to support the circular economy and help reduce plastic waste.
By chemically upcycling consumer-discarded PET (primarily single-use water bottles) into higher-value PBT materials with enhanced properties and suitability for more-durable applications, we are encouraging the use of recycled resins. These products also offer a smaller cradle-to-gate environmental footprint than virgin PBT
resin, as measured by Cumulative Energy Demand (CED) and Global Warming Potential (GWP).
Our LNP Elcrin iQ compounds and blends are based on upcycled iQ PBT resins, a proprietary SABIC technology. This technology overcomes some of the limitations of mechanical recycling by using chemical processes to depolymerize PET bottles and other PET waste into their precursor chemicals, purify them and then use them
to create new PBT resin. The technology can deliver performance and processing benefits such as good chemical resistance, colorability, high flow for faster throughput and flame retardance (FR).
8. For recycling of Pet bottle have you been associated with any of the Pet bottle recycling companies of India?
We believe recycling PET bottles is a collective responsibility and welcome partners from across all sectors to join us on the mission to promote a circular economy model. We must work towards a roadmap for circularity in plastics that looks at the entire value chain.
9. STC, Bengaluru is one of the biggest technology centers; how did the idea form to come up with a technology center in India?
We opened the SABIC Technology Center at Bengaluru in 2013, with an initial investment of $100 million. It is one of our global R&D centres of excellence. India is a rapidly developing nation where partnership and inclusive development is a priority. As an important market for us in Asia, it was a strategic investment to strengthen our presence in the country through the our technology center, which focuses on leveraging India’s domestic research capabilities. The center develops innovative and cutting-edge solutions to some of the biggest challenges faced by our society and industry today.
It is also well integrated with other SABIC research centres globally and works in collaboration with cross-regional teams. With sustainability and innovation at thecore of everything at SABIC, the technology center plays a key role in the region and globally.
10. What are the key focus areas of STC-B in the Indian markets?
Our teams at STC – B are working to develop innovative solutions including 5G enablement, Electric Vehicles, Solar applications in India and Water management in India.
In 5G enablement, SABIC specialties team at the Center has the simulation experience for electromagnetic modelling using commercial simulation software such as ALTAIR FEKO, ANSYS HFSS, and COMSOL Multiphysics To support the electrification trend in mobility, SABIC’s Specialties and PetChem Businesses offer a range of solutions to the E-mobility industry with safety, lightweighting, and functionality in mind. We offer several materials for use in Electric Vehicles that can bring weight reduction, increased crash safety, design freedom, enhanced processing and low system cost along with fire safety and thermal management.
In terms of solar applications, SABIC is collaborating with major players in India in developing critical infrastructure in solar power generation for residential and industrial applications. We have material solutions covering all major 10 Classification: Internal Use components in solar power generation. Basic components in solar power generation are solar panels, inverters, controllers, metering systems, junction boxes and connectors.
Considering a major portion of roof tops in India being flat, we have developed a unique, modular solution replacing incumbent metal structures. This design has less parts, light weight, high productivity, and easy installation compared to metal structures currently used.
In terms of water management, SABIC solutions can help the country’s water industry meet today’s goals and overcome tomorrow’s challenges with advanced material and design capabilities tailored for whole system performance. Water management represents about 70% of NORYL business in India and hence a very important sector. Applications spaces such as water pumps, meters, water distribution and treatment are the biggest sectors/industries in India and offer good opportunities for today and future.
The STC-B center as well houses key capabilities that serve the global SABIC needs, with key global leadership in Product Testing, Life Cycle Assessments, Process Engineering / PDP development, Organic Synthesis / Tolling, and Modeling.
11. The world is talking about sustainability what is your opinion on this subject?
Sustainability is central to all that we do. We have an ongoing strategic roadmap to ensure that we not only embrace the potential of new technology but also update ourselves in terms of sustainability benchmark going beyond our targets. For example, last year, we continued our low-carbon journey by exploring various applications for ammonia outside of fertilizers and chemical intermediaries and expanding into power generation, shipping fuel, and acting as a hydrogen carrier. We are exploring opportunities in blue and green ammonia production. In addition, we announced a breakthrough partnership with BASF and LINDE to develop and scale for the market technology for the electrification of olefin cracking furances which offer the potential to reduce emissions by 90+% vs current technology.
By reducing emissions and product impacts, we strengthen our business while supporting a sustainable future. Last year, we made a public commitment for all our operations to become carbon neutral by 2050 (Scope 1 and 2), and to reduce emissions by 20% vs our 2018 baseline. The pledge is a statement of intent and a marker that will henceforth orient all our efforts to combat the most pressing issue of our time: climate change.
We have identified five primary pathways to decarbonization: Reliability, Energy Efficiency, and Improvements; Renewable Energy; Electrification; Carbon Capture; and Green/Blue Hydrogen.
These five pathways, along with our ongoing focus on circular and renewable feedstock, will drive our efforts in the years and decades to come.
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