The petrochemical industry in Europe has been actively embracing specialty, value-added products as it seeks to capitalize on a series of megatrends that are shaping the economy, as per Platts. However, it is deterred by investor skepticism and impatience. Meeting the needs of socioeconomic developments such as increasing urbanization, ageing populations, fuel efficiency, sustainability and recycling, pose a challenge to the chemical industry in particular. The European petrochemical industry has been investing intensively into developing its specialty capabilities while phasing out some of its less profitable and less promising bulk commodity operations. In the tougher post-2008 economic environment, this gathered pace, as the industry has sought to rationalize, consolidate and eliminate inefficient capacity and in many cases exit bulk commodity manufacturing. Trying to compete in the production of bulk commodities against regions that have an inherently cheaper feedstock and labor bases is becoming progressively more difficult for Europe.
By serving diverse societal needs, the industry remains under pressure to continuously reinvent itself and to keep pace with these needs. Identifying fundamental drivers for change has been essential for the industry.
"Mainly we are looking at how the industry can contribute and provide solutions to the main challenges we are facing, be it green house gases, be it fossil fuels, be it recycling and re-use and all elements of sustainability," said Juhan Robberts, ExxonMobil's European business director for basic chemicals. Robberts is also a board member of EPCA. He explains that the industry's objective in general is to play its role in society and to make sure that this is done in a sustainable manner, which means balancing economic growth, social development and environmental factors.