Driving sustainable chemistry forward together
March 9, 2021
SusChem is the European Technology Platform for Sustainable Chemistry. It was officially launched in 2004 as an initiative supported by the European Commission to revitalize and inspire research, development and innovation in European chemistry and industrial biotechnology in a sustainable way. Since January 1, 2021, Josef R. Wünsch, Senior Vice President R&D Performance Materials, is the new Chairman of SusChem. We talked to him about his tasks and goals.
Mr. Wünsch, can you briefly explain what SusChem means and which topics are in focus?
SusChem stands for Sustainable Chemistry and is a so-called European Technology Platform (ETP). These ETPs are intended to bring Europe forward in certain technology fields. In the case of SusChem, these are sustainable chemistry and industrial biotechnology. We want to make these topics more visible in the European research framework program and significantly increase the participation of the chemical and biotechnology sector. Thematically, SusChem focuses on the three major topics of new materials, new processes and digitalization in the chemical and biotechnological industry, as well as on cross-cutting topics such as chemical safety, circular economy and energy efficiency. Personally, I am passionate about the topic of sustainability and I am honored to lead and shape the tasks of SusChem together with my colleagues on the board.
How does that work in concrete terms?
We are facing enormous challenges today; think, for example, of climate change and the increasingly scarce resources of this planet. To meet these challenges and transform our industry and society, innovation in sustainable solutions and pioneering carbon dioxide (CO2) reduction technologies play a crucial role. If the EU's Green Deal is to succeed, we need to combine it with a very ambitious innovation agenda to identify further opportunities and foster innovation based on responsible research and partnerships. This is what SusChem is all about, a forum that brings together different stakeholders such as industry, academia, policy makers and the wider society to launch initiatives.
In concrete terms, SusChem's activities take place at very different levels. In technology-focused working groups, we develop white papers on current topics. In addition, we participate in consultations with the European Commission and initiate pioneering technology projects. At SusChem, we organize so-called brokerage events. Here we offer interested companies and research institutes a stage to network and take advantage of EU funding programs, especially Horizon Europe, through collaborative approaches. Finally, we hold annual stakeholder events for all members and interested parties on current and strategic topics in sustainable chemistry and biotechnology.
Can you give an example of how the different partners at SusChem work together in terms of content?
I would like to briefly mention the joint work on a technology strategy paper, the "Strategic Innovation and Research Agenda (SIRA)", which at the beginning of each new research and innovation framework program in the EU (such as now the Horizon EU from 2021 to 2027 with a budget of EUR 95.5 billion ) sets technology priorities in line with EU policy objectives. Ideally, these recommendations combine what is politically desirable with what is technologically achievable and economically feasible. The process of developing this document manifests SusChem's multi-stakeholder approach at its best. To develop the proposals and evaluate the technologies, we brought together specialists in working groups for the SusChem fields of activity already mentioned. These have extensive experience on specific topics, technology areas, innovation programs as well as academic backgrounds and can access their network in their organizers. This process was accompanied by a SusChem Innovation Team and an external consultant. The preliminary document was then presented to a somewhat broader group for consultation before the final document was released to the public in December 2019.
Are there any priorities you want to set as the new chairman?
Initially, the focus will be on technological issues relating to new processes for the production of safe and sustainable chemicals. Then there is the question of what constitutes safer and more sustainable products. We need to develop criteria for this. Finally, we need processes and methods for the targeted development of safe and sustainable products. The keywords here are safe and sustainable-by-design.
In addition: The recently published "EU Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability" (CSS), which aims at a "Zero Pollution Environment" as one of the core elements of the European Green Deal, is one of the major challenges facing the European chemical industry. In my first weeks on the board, I have discussed our 2021-23 agenda with all SusChem board members, and we are unanimous in making the individual points of the CSS the central building block of our work. In doing so, we can develop position papers to demonstrate the essential use of defined chemicals or the safe handling of chemicals or technologies. We can also initiate alternatives to existing chemicals and technologies based on our SIRA technology paper. Questions about which technologies are available and which need to be developed to achieve these goals will definitely be one of, if not the determining,focus of the election period and my activities.