Opinion: Addressing water efficiency key to success of GCC chemical producers

The wider MENA region is home to 6.3% of the world's population, and yet owns just 1.4% of global renewable fresh water, observes Dr Abdulwahab Al-Sadoun, secretary general, Gulf Petrochemicals and Chemicals Association (GPCA).

Dr Abdulwahab Al-Sadoun, secretary general, Gulf Petrochemicals and Chemicals Association (GPCA).
Dr Abdulwahab Al-Sadoun, secretary general, Gulf Petrochemicals and Chemicals Association (GPCA).

Water scarcity is not only an important global concern but also a major regional issue, and part of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDG 6. Clean Water and Sanitation). Albeit abounding in rich hydrocarbon reserves, the Arabian Gulf is dominated by a harsh desert terrain, and lacks access to crucial fresh water resources.

Water availability – or scarcity hereby – is a growing economic challenge and a major source of risk to businesses in this region. The efficient use of water is especially a relevant measure in the GCC manufacturing sector and of particular importance to the GCC chemical industry, where industry relies on energy intensive processes to provide desalinated water for production as well as domestic use.

The chemical industry is a responsible player in the global market compliant with international standards such as Responsible Care – the chemical manufacturing industry’s environmental, health, safety and security performance initiative. Since its adoption, the Arabian Gulf region has come a long way in its Responsible Care journey, and leads the rankings in implementation compared to other regions globally.

Effective wastewater management and resource utilisation remain key priorities for the GCC producers who continue to invest heavily in developing the right processes and technologies to achieve better results. Another important focus for producers in the region is growing energy efficiency, and lowering their environmental footprint, while maintaining safe and healthy operations both inside and outside the fence.

Reducing the volumes of water consumption in our production processes relies largely on identifying losses and implementing technological improvements, plant upgrades and minimisation of waste wherever possible. To achieve real and sustained reduction in water consumption and wastewater production, a holistic approach is required.

One of the GPCA’s members, Yanbu Petrochemical Company (YANPET), has addressed this problem in a holistic way by adopting a formal wastewater management programme. As a result, instances of wastewater parameters exceedance are reduced by almost 100% by the end of 2016. Through their joint corporate social responsibility programme, Water for the World™, Borealis and Borouge helped bring safe and affordable drinking water to more than 50,000 of the poorest residents in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2015.

By 2050, the world population is projected to grow to nine billion, meaning that global food production needs to increase by 60% from 2005-2007 levels. Chemical fertilisers are crucial in driving sustainable and efficient agriculture industry, while ensuring food security and supporting socio-economic development (UN SDG 2. Zero Hunger). Furthermore, innovations in plastic packaging are key to food preservation, prolonging the shelf life of food, as well as reducing the environmental impact from waste, food wastage being the third largest contributor to greenhouse gases. Polymers, in particular, are a vital part of food packaging due to their mechanical strength, inexpensive cost, and ease of processing and manufacturing.

Zero waste is a key stepping stone for sustainability. The plastics industry offers huge potential for the establishment of a circular economy, which is based on conserving resources, prolonging the life of products, and recycling. Furthermore, our industry is adopting technology to allow commercialisation of otherwise redundant or waste product from production processes.

A programme initiated at Ma’aden Phosphate Company to enhance its recycling culture within its day-to-day operations resulted in doubling the company’s recycling rate vs. waste generated from just 6% in 2015 to 11.5% within H1-2016 (UN SDG 12. Responsible Consumption and Production).

Our members continue to work hard in all areas of environmental management, as well as developing strategies to reduce their environmental footprint through effective Responsible Care management systems. They are also investing in new technologies, process upgrades and plant changes to minimise their CO2 footprint. As a result of these efforts, average greenhouse gas emissions in tonnes of CO2 equivalent fell in 2016 by approximately 9% compared to the year before (UN SDG 13. Climate Action).

The Gulf Petrochemicals and Chemicals Association (GPCA) has recently released its 2016 Responsible Care Performance Metrics Report, highlighting the collective Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) performance of the GCC chemical producers and the numerous success stories from GPCA member companies. The full report can be downloaded at www.gpca.org.ae.

Dr Abdulwahab Al-Sadoun  is the secretary general of the Gulf Petrochemicals and Chemicals Association (GPCA). Set up in March 2006, GPCA is a dedicated non-profit association, serving its members with industry data and information sources. 

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