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If it were up to Koen Janssen, director of Research & Development at DSM Biomedical chemical group, companies and governments would invest much more in new technology to make C02-free manufacturing viable. According to him, the radical way in which governments restricted their populations and economies this year in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 can be seen as an indication of what we are capable of as the human race. CO2 emissions fell dramatically and the air was much cleaner almost everywhere in the world. “If we also made the same effort to combat climate change, we would definitely achieve far better results than we are doing now,” he expects.

Janssen said this during a press conference on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the DSM site in Geleen, the Netherlands. The Brightlands Chemelot Campus is now based there for circular companies and research into the circularization of raw materials produced by DSM and former DSM business divisions that are now owned by SABIC.

Koen Janssen, R&D director at DSM Biomedical Photo: Brightlands Chemelot Campus

Janssen believes that the problem is that the commitment to combating climate change has so far been too tenuous. “We should realize that we only have one earth and that the planet has only got a limited capacity.” This is now being used too intensively, Janssen states. “We need to go on the offensive.”

‘Soon Greenland will really be a green country’

The general objective is for temperatures not to rise by more than one and a half degrees Celsius. But that does not mean much to most people. One and a half degrees is an abstract figure for a lot of people. That number is based on a model. The best thing is if you can beat that model. But ultimately, a model is just a model. In reality, things can turn out differently.”

Take Greenland, says Janssen. “The ice of the glaciers is melting away so fast and soon Greenland will really be a green country.”

Young people are more aware than older generations that you can influence this situation through your own behaviour. In his view, they tend to use public transport more often than cars. They are more likely to be vegetarians and therefore burden the environment less than if they were to eat meat. “Younger generations like my children and students are much more concerned about this.”

‘Coca Cola and Ikea will soon only want to use recyclable plastic’

Large companies play a crucial role, Janssen maintains. “As DSM, we are also making this clear. By 2030, 75% of all the electricity we use will be green. At the moment, that is at least 50%.”

“DSM also no longer wants to produce raw materials that cannot be used again. For example, we recycle discarded fishing nets that we get from partners whom we work with. We turn them into plastic granules that can be used for new products. What’s more, DSM has promised that our engineering materials will be based on biological or recycled raw materials by 2030. That’s quite something.”

The industry that needs plastic as a raw material to package products also no longer tolerates it if that plastic cannot be recycled, states Bert Kip, CEO of the Chemelot Campus. “They are all pledging to produce and deliver in a circular way by 2030. This actually extends to all major companies, such as Unilever, Coca Cola, and Ikea.”

In other words, the market for raw materials must be radically transformed. And the Brightlands Chemelot Campus in Geelen with large-scale companies like DSM and SABIC is the ideal place to do that. The aim is to become Europe’s largest circular hub.