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How green is your engineering proposal? - Life cycle impact assessment in High Value Chemical Manufacturing
School of Process, Environmental & Materials Engineering, University of Leeds, woodhouse lane, LEEDS, LS2 9JT, UK

KEYWORDS: Green Engineering; Green Chemistry; Life cycle assessment; Manufacturing; Sustainability
ABSTRACT: The high value chemical manufacturing industrial sector (HVCM) is an important contributor to Europe’s economy. This industries output consists of complex end user chemicals like drugs, agro chemicals, Colours, fragrances and surfactants. This paper demonstrates the sustainability of the HVCM sector is difficult to assess and how splitting the unit process in 3 parts: a) contributory materials and energy, (b) processing related emissions and (c) secondary process streams requiring further processing can facilitate the understanding of the LCIA. A rapid and consistent assessment LCIA tool is necessary before engineers and chemist can consistently rank green and conventional processing options in the HVCM sector.

To many people the word “Chemical” is synonymous with artificial, industrially made, toxic, environmentally and health endangering materials. Their views may be shaped by the properties of chemical reagents and intermediates generated in industrial plants which often are indeed dangerous substances, and subject to stringent controls. Incidents in plants using or manufacturing these chemicals can indeed have grave consequences (1).
Products supplied to end-users (consumers) rarely consist of a single chemical substance. Most products are a mixture, or formulation, of “effect” chemicals e.g. solutions, suspensions, pills, tablets, powders, aerosols. The “end-user” chemicals in these products are typically high value chemicals designed and optimised for a particular effect e.g.: Bio-activity (in drugs, agrochemicals, bactericide etc), food effects (sweetening, emulsifying, thickening), ability to clean (surfactants, whiteners), colors and dyes (in paints, clothes) and to enhance the physical and chemical stability of the formulated product.
In the UK the term High Value Chemical Manufacturing (HVCM) is currently used to describe the sector that delivers these end-user chemicals. Although this term is not widely used in Europe generally, the NACE economic categories associated with the HVCM sector are easily identified and given in figure 1 (2, 3). The employment of 1.1 million people and the estimated turnover of ca. £340bn in 2009 makes the HVCM sector an important contributor to Europe’s economy (3). The HVCM sector can be further differentiated in the formulated HVCM sector which manufactures key effect chemicals (also called the Active Ingredient), and formulates these in end user products and the intermediate HVCM sector, which supply chemicals to manufacturers for further processing, or inclusion in their products (e.g. automotive, aerospace, printing, electronics, biocides, food and drink etc ).

The societal benefit of the HVCM sector has (at least) two main elements: (a) the economic activities associated with cradle to gate manufacturing activities (e.g. 340 B€ turnover and 120B€ added value) and (b) the personal and societal benefits resulting from use of the end user products. In general, the benefits of end user chemicals are harder to quantify objectively as products often fulfil more than one end user needs and different societal groupings assign different values to the benefits.
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