The impact and opportunities associated with digital technologies in the chemical and other process industries is an area of increasing importance for both SusChem and SPIRE. SusChem has already put the spotlight on digital technologies. Sustainable chemistry acts as an enabler for the continuous development of smarter and more sustainable electronic devices and equipment in other industries, while also being transformed and disrupted through digitalisation. This later topic was a major theme at the 2019 EU Industry Day event on 5 and 6 February where SusChem participated.
The European Commission’s EU Industry Days 2019 focused on key industrial challenges such as sustainability, digitalisation, investment and globalisation. The event demonstrated how EU industrial policy benefits European citizens and provided input for future policy making.
Martin Winter, Innovation Manager at Cefic and the lead contact for digital technologies for both SusChem and SPIRE was part of a panel discussion on ‘Data in Materials and Manufacturing’ on the second day of the event.
There is a real opportunity to leverage the immense capabilities of information and communication technologies (ICT) to optimise processes and improve production efficiency within the chemical and process industries. Martin initially explained how data technologies including blockchain and artificial intelligence will become important for recycling and reuse of materials within the process industries to enable a more circular economy.
3D-printed catalytic reactors
As an example of the potential impact of digital technologies in the chemical sector he described the SPIRE Horizon 2020 project ‘PRINTCR3DIT’. “This is the first EU-funded initiative on modelling the effect of 3D-printing technologies for both reactor and catalyst design in the chemical industries,” said Martin Winter. The project is part of a significant portfolio of digital technology projects managed by the SPIRE cPPP.
He also emphasised the essential role of Public-Private-Partnerships (cPPPs) like SPIRE or Big Data Value PPP in bringing the relevant data-related innovation ecosystems together and accelerating the uptake of technologies from research into use in industry. Martin Winter presented the substantial portfolio of digital projects within SPIRE and emphasised the need for new digital skills for chemists and engineers working in the new digital era.
Other speakers in the session highlighted the enormous opportunities that integrated data management could yield together with the barriers that are currently inhibiting their full exploitation. Interoperability was a major issue and much of the discussion centred around ontology – the formal naming and categorisation of data sets – as a key area of work to enable data transfer.
Martin Winter noted some issues in terms of value creation through advanced data analytics. In process industries better data availability, data storage, cybersecurity and advanced data analytics are becoming very important. He also called for a co-creation process to accelerate progress.
There is a need to fully leverage synergies between cPPPs. “SPIRE, Big Data Value and Cybersecurity PPPs must work together here,” he said. “If Europe is lagging behind in this area, it is very important that we avoid any possibility of duplication of work.”