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Materials, Processes and Products

Industry Goal: An industry taking a life cycle view of our materials, processes and products.

At the heart of the plastics and chemicals industry is the ability to transform feedstock and materials into products and services and create value. The industries rely on raw materials from petrochemicals, mining, resources and agriculture to manufacture the goods and materials used every day. The vast majority of feedstocks (around 98%) used in organic chemical synthesis come from petroleum feed stocks, with the industries drawing on around 4-6% of total global oil and gas reserves each year.

Businesses need to adapt their materials, processes and product strategies to respond to changing drivers such as:

  • Petrochemical feedstock will be more expensive: The added value from petrochemical feedstock will need to be maximised, given a price on carbon through emissions trading in Australia and internationally
  • Future feedstocks: The opportunities to transform to renewable or bio-based based feedstock as part of a continuity of supply strategy
  • Technology will require less volume for each product: Biotechnology and nanotechnology will dramatically reduce the amount of material needed in product manufacture
  • Increased service and design opportunities: The role of design will become more significant and products will be valued based on the service they offer customers (rather than volume)
  • The necessary and continuing shift to more benign materials: The need to move to lower toxicity materials and products through materials, substitution, design and technology
  • Customer expectation: Customers are increasingly requiring and collaborating to purchase products with lower environmental impacts and increased product disclosure

In a commodity based sector, these drivers present significant challenges to respond and adapt, however leading companies are building on existing capabilities to develop new approaches based on full life cycle information such as:

  • Efficiency and waste reduction can be maximised to reduce life cycle impacts
  • Product stewardship provides an existing framework to assess opportunities along product life cycles and supply chains to minimise or eliminate potential health and safety, or environmental impact
  • Recycling and closed loop product systems will help to secure and extend feedstock availability
  • Design, technology partnerships and intellectual property collaborations will continue to emerge to shift the focus to product value over volume and increased life cycle value
  • Renewable and bio-based feedstocks have secured a growing Australian market presence, with commercialised products and applications and could transform product life cycles.

Companies will need to pursue a mix of strategies to choose materials, optimise processes and deliver and design products in a way that delivers the best value over the full life cycle. This will require new skills, new technologies and new collaborations revolutionising raw materials use through strategies such as efficiency, design, closed loop, life cycle approaches, using bio-renewable materials and technology applications.

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