Paving the way for a Sus­tain­able Chem­i­cal In­dus­try

Chemical Industry Digest - - What’s In? - Har­shad Naik

- Har­shad Naik, Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor, Hunts­man In­ter­na­tional In­dia Pvt Ltd.

Prod­uct as well as process in­no­va­tions are the way for­ward to ob­tain higher con­ver­sion ef­fi­cien­cies, sav­ing re­sources and util­i­ties. New tech­nolo­gies on the anvil will also en­able sus­tain­abil­ity.


Process as well as prod­uct in­no­va­tions are fun­da­men­tal to cre­at­ing a sus­tain­able chem­i­cal in­dus­try so that re­sources from raw ma­te­rial to util­i­ties are op­ti­mally used. Reg­u­la­tory and pub­lic pres­sures are also driv­ing the shift to­wards en­vi­ron­men­tally benign pro­cesses and prod­ucts. A ma­jor area, trans­porta­tion/mo­bil­ity is be­ing im­pacted with a slew of tech­nolo­gies from ma­te­ri­als that help re­duce the car­bon foot­print to elec­tric ve­hi­cles that re­duce or do away with fos­sil fuels. Dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies on the anvil will also dra­mat­i­cally drive ef­fi­cien­cies, re­duc­ing waste and bring in par­a­digm changes in man­u­fac­tur­ing which will also en­able sus­tain­abil­ity

The chem­i­cal in­dus­try is an in­te­gral part of man­u­fac­tur­ing, tex­tiles, phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals and trans­port, among many other sec­tors that are adapt­ing sus­tain­able prac­tices to align with global qual­ity and en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards. Sus­tain­abil­ity is gain­ing im­por­tance in the chem­i­cal in­dus­try to en­com­pass so­cial, en­vi­ron­men­tal and eco­nomic as­pects of the ecosys­tem. To­day, chem­i­cal com­pa­nies are opt­ing for a va­ri­ety of re­new­able re­sources to de­velop prod­ucts that will re­duce the pres­sure on fos­sil fuels and leave a smaller en­vi­ron­men­tal foot­print. The in­dus­try that used to be heav­ily de­pen­dent on non-re­new­able en­ergy and pro­duc­tion re­sources, now seeks bio-based man­u­fac­tur­ing that is driv­ing sus­tain­able change and help­ing in cut­ting costs for over­all main­te­nance and pro­duc­tion.

With the world be­ing sen­si­tised about en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­lu­tion and de­plet­ing nat­u­ral re­sources, en­vi­ron­ment, govern­ment and in­dus­trial poli­cies are mov­ing to­wards achiev­ing sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment. The in- creased in­ter re­la­tion be­tween apt en­vi­ron­men­tal and in­dus­trial poli­cies will help pro­mote the pro­tec­tion of our ecosys­tem, in­crease healthy com­pe­ti­tion, in­no­va­tion and em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties. Chem­i­cal com­pa­nies that are ac­ced­ing to sus­tain­able prac­tices can drive stake­holder in­ter­est, re­sult­ing in cre­at­ing more prod­ucts and so­lu­tions that ad­dress the sus­tain­abil­ity chal­lenges. They are adopt­ing strate­gies that will help them cre­ate a goal for them­selves to achieve sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment through their prod­ucts.

Cor­po­rates and gov­ern­ments need to work in tan­dem

Cli­mate change is a global is­sue and con­se­quently re­quires a strong and sus­tained ef­fort of col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween coun­tries, con­ti­nents, pri­vate play­ers as well as govern­ment agen­cies to de­velop and im­ple­ment poli­cies for the chem­i­cal in­dus­try to ad­dress sus­tain­abil­ity prac­tices. For ex­am­ple, chem­i­cal com­pa­nies have in­no­vated and delivered en­ergy-ef­fi­cient prod­ucts that re­duce CFC (Chloro-Fluro­car­bons) or Green­house Gas (GHG) across the econ­omy. These prod­uct in­no­va­tions have helped in the wide­spread ap­pli­ca­tion of chem­i­cal tech­nol­ogy, from build­ing ma­te­ri­als and agri­cul­tural prod­ucts to home ap­pli­ances and au­to­mo­biles.

For ex­am­ple, Hunts­man Chem­i­cals’ agri­cul­tural sci­ence di­vi­sion has helped cre­ate new pest con­trol sys­tems and an­i­mal health prod­ucts that in­crease yields with min­i­mal en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact. The agro­chem­i­cals that Hunts­man man­u­fac­tures fo­cus on low tox­i­c­ity, low

odour and in­ert agri­cul­tural in­gre­di­ents that im­prove the per­for­mance of pest con­trol de­liv­ery sys­tems for most types of farm­ing across all con­ti­nents. Col­lab­o­rat­ing with re­gional en­vi­ron­men­tal agen­cies and agri­cul­tural spe­cial­ists out­side the lab has en­abled Hunts­man to de­velop nu­mer­ous chem­i­cal com­po­nents that are at­tuned to reg­u­la­tions and tol­er­ance ex­emp­tions.

Un­der­stand­ing de­car­bon­i­sa­tion co­nun­drum

Out­side the purview of agri­cul­ture, the chem­i­cal in­dus­try cov­ers a wide range of di­verse pro­cesses, rang­ing from com­plex pro­cesses to smaller-scale batch pro­cesses pro­duc­ing spe­cialty chem­i­cals, sup­ple­ment­ing construction ma­te­ri­als and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­gre­di­ents. How­ever, the chal­lenge for these com­pa­nies is the pro­duc­tion of chem­i­cals that avoid dan­ger­ous an­thro­pogenic in­ter­fer­ence with the cli­mate sys­tem. The im­ple­men­ta­tion of COP21 or the Paris Cli­mate Change Agree­ment also ad­dresses the is­sue of cre­at­ing ecofriendly prod­ucts to re­duce car­bon foot­print. At the same time, the chal­lenge also pre­sents a mas­sive op­por­tu­nity for the sec­tor to show its con­cern to ad­dress cli­mate change through sus­tain­able cul­ture, pro­cesses and prod­ucts.

Un­for­tu­nately, changes in the econ­omy and the need to de­car­bonise brings up an­other host of road­blocks such as en­ergy prices and pol­icy costs, strin­gent ROI re­quire­ments, com­mer­cial­iza­tion of new and un­proven tech­nol­ogy, high cost of R&D, as well as un­cer­tainty in pol­icy and reg­u­la­tions. Hav­ing said that, chem­i­cal com­pa­nies are cir­cum­vent­ing these bar­ri­ers to come up with a set of tech­nol­ogy roadmaps that will help in eval­u­at­ing the po­ten­tial de­vel­op­ments in the chem­i­cal in­dus­try and help re­duce car­bon emis­sions. For ex­am­ple, there are sev­eral en­ablers that help chem­i­cal com­pa­nies de­car­bonize - a sta­ble and pre­dictable pol­icy frame­work, strong busi­ness case and the abil­ity to demon­strate pay­back, fi­nan­cial in­cen­tives to ad­dress the costs as­so­ci­ated with adopt­ing green tech­nolo­gies and the recog­ni­tion of key tech­nol­ogy en­ablers to fur­ther de­velop and ac­cede to the tech­nolo­gies.

Prod­uct in­no­va­tion – The way for­ward

Apart from pol­icy and reg­u­la­tory changes, prod­uct in­no­va­tions in the chem­i­cal in­dus­try can also have a con­sid­er­able pos­i­tive im­pact to­wards en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity. For ex­am­ple, polyurethane in­su­la­tion pro­duced by Hunts­man, for build­ings and houses, can re­duce de­mand for fos­sil fuel-based en­ergy used for heat­ing and cool­ing. In hot en­vi­ron­ments it can min­imise the build­ing’s heat re­sult­ing in the min­i­mal use of air con­di­tion­ers and cool­ing sys­tems that run on non­re­new­able en­ergy sources. Build­ings like these can save 40% of car­bon diox­ide emis­sions and homes can save a sig­nif­i­cant amount on elec­tric­ity bills. Ac­cord­ing to a McKin­sey re­port, the ra­tio of car­bon diox­ide emis­sions saved by polyurethane used in build­ing in­su­la­tion, com­pared to the car­bon diox­ide emis­sions used to pro­duce the ma­te­rial is 233:1. In the lon­grun, ex­ten­sive use of polyurethane in­su­la­tion can help meet ad­vanced en­ergy codes of Amer­i­can Na­tional Stan­dards, The Amer­i­can So­ci­ety of Heat­ing, Re­frig­er­at­ing and AirCon­di­tion­ing En­gi­neers Stan­dards and Il­lu­mi­nat­ing En­gi­neer­ing So­ci­ety Stan­dards – prac­tised glob­ally.

Tex­tile in­no­va­tions to save wa­ter

In­no­va­tion is quite es­sen­tial for or­ga­ni­za­tions that com­pete in rapidly chang­ing mar­kets. They are con­stantly un­der pres­sure from shift­ing con­sumer de­mand and ad­her­ing to global en­vi­ron­men­tal poli­cies. How­ever, the chem­i­cal in­dus­try is con­stantly mak­ing ef­forts to achieve the goal for sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment by us­ing the lat­est ad­vance­ments in sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy in all its ar­eas of func­tion­ing. A good ex­am­ple of en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity of Hunts­man Tex­tile Ef­fects in­tro­duc­ing the new PHOBOTEX RSY non­flu­o­ri­nated durable wa­ter re­pel­lent (DWR) that can be used on high-per­for­mance syn­thetic tex­tiles. With this wa­ter re­pel­lent fin­ish, brands and re­tail­ers can pro­vide eco-friendly cloth­ing that have ex­treme rain and stain pro­tec­tion. Thus, re­duc­ing the num­ber of times a cloth is washed and the en­vi­ron­men­tal foot­print for treated fab­rics.

Sim­i­larly, in dyes, Hunts­man’s AVITERA SE re­ac­tive dye range is a real game-changer for the in­dus­try. These dyes use up to 50% less wa­ter and en­ergy than con­ven­tional dye­ing tech­nolo­gies less salt, and they are the first re­ac­tive dyes to be free of para-chloroani­line among other haz­ardous sub­stances. Made in In­dia at the com­pany’s Bar­oda pro­duc­tion plant, the AVITERA SE dyes also help mills im­prove pro­duc­tiv­ity and yield, as well as pro­vide busi­nesses with a cleaner sup­ply chain.

Trans­port in­no­va­tions to save fos­sil fuels

Mov­ing on from tex­tiles, trans­porta­tion is a ma­jor sec­tor that is un­der con­stant pres­sure to re­duce emis­sions as well as use re­new­able re­sources. The de­vel­op­ments in trans­porta­tion have not only had an im­pact on the lives of in­di­vid­u­als but also large economies, and will con­tinue to have a de­ci­sive im­pact on the fu­ture of the planet. In the aero­space in­dus­try, fuel pur-

chases are 30-40% of a trans­port air­craft’s op­er­a­tional costs. Fuel costs, heavy weights of aero­planes and cor­ro­sion in ad­verse cli­matic con­di­tions are the chal­lenges that the aero­nau­tics in­dus­try has been deal­ing with. Though the chem­i­cal in­dus­try is in­volved in re­fin­ing the fuel and main­te­nance of air trans­port ve­hi­cles, it is also ac­tively in­ter­ested in ad­vanc­ing tech­nolo­gies that can help re­duce the car­bon foot­print.

For ex­am­ple, Araldite epoxy resins widely used in civil as well as de­fence ap­pli­ca­tions such as man­u­fac­tur­ing of com­pos­ite parts of pas­sen­ger air­craft, mil­i­tary air­craft, he­li­copters, marine trans­port as well as in space ap­pli­ca­tions such as satel­lites and radars. In ad­di­tion to mul­ti­func­tional epoxy resins, Hunts­man pro­vides the high-per­for­mance epoxy ad­he­sives and epoxy syn­tac­tic ma­te­ri­als which are pri­mar­ily used for re­in­forc­ing hon­ey­comb com­pos­ite pan­els in air­craft floors, gal­ley walls and bulk­heads. The epoxy coat­ing sys­tems are also used for pro­tec­tion of metal­lic parts from cor­ro­sion. In com­bi­na­tion, these parts re­duce the weight of the ve­hi­cle, help in­crease fuel ef­fi­ciency and cut down costs sig­nif­i­cantly.

Adopt­ing new mo­bil­ity

How­ever, the trans­porta­tion and mo­bil­ity sec­tor is mov­ing to­wards a more tech­nol­ogy-ori­ented fu­ture. The emer­gence of con­nected, elec­tric ve­hi­cles and shift­ing at­ti­tudes to­ward mo­bil­ity are be­gin­ning to pro­foundly change the way peo­ple and goods move about, af­fect­ing a host of in­dus­tries, in­clud­ing chem­i­cal. Decades ago, the auto in­dus­try saw the role of chem­i­cals and ma­te­ri­als fun­da­men­tally re­shaped as the oil shock spurred the need for lighter-weight and lower-cost com­po­nents. The use of polyurethanes to make car seats as well as ef­fi­cient paints for coat­ing the ve­hi­cles be­came a generic prac­tice but fu­ture mo­bil­ity trends may pro­foundly af­fect coat­ings man­u­fac­tur­ers and their sup­pli­ers. While busi­ness from au­to­mo­tive re­fin­ish shops could de­cline, there would be many op­por­tu­ni­ties for “func­tional” coat­ings in gen­eral in­fra­struc­ture and hap­tic ma­te­ri­als in the car.

There is also a pos­si­bil­ity of a gen­eral shift from ma­te­ri­als that play a purely struc­tured role to those that pro­vide both struc­ture and func­tion. For ex­am­ple, the emer­gence of au­tonomous ve­hi­cles could dis­rupt the chem­i­cals and ma­te­ri­als that go into the build­ing of the ve­hi­cle and are re­quired to main­tain the ve­hi­cle. To­day, a lot of ve­hi­cles on road are equipped with crash-avoid­ance tech­nolo­gies and af­ter­mar­ket body shops will likely see an im­pact on the num­ber of cars that need repairs and re­paint­ing. As the seg­ment is al­ready in de­cline, with time the $7 bil­lion mar­ket for coat­ings sup­ply for au­to­mo­tive re­fin­ish¬ing will also dwin­dle.

Hav­ing said that, the aware­ness about sus­tain­able trans­porta­tion prac­tices will bring about a pos­i­tive im­pact to the chem­i­cal in­dus­try. There will be an in­crease in ex­pected vol­ume in bat­tery ma­te­ri­als as the over­all de­mand goes up. The use of high per­for­mance poly­mers will in­crease due to light-weight­ing and smart in­fra­struc­ture ap­pli­ca­tions. And the use of com­mod­ity poly­mers will be higher due to light weight­ing. On the other hand, in the coat­ing seg­ment, as the de­mand shifts from metal to plas­tics and com­pos­ites, coat­ings will shift from aes­thetic to func­tional. The over­all shift to a more tech­nol­ogy-ori­ented trans­port fu­ture will de­crease the need for lubri­cants that are oil based, there­fore re­duc­ing the use of fos­sil fuels.

Em­brac­ing tech­nol­ogy

To achieve cer­tain goals, chem­i­cal com­pa­nies will have to restruc­ture their prod­uct port­fo­lio, re­write busi­ness mod­els to gen­er­ate higher re­turns on their in­vest­ment in in­no­va­tion and suc­cess­fully ex­ploit newage dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies such as ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, ma­chine learn­ing, big data an­a­lyt­ics and blockchain, among oth­ers.

Tra­di­tional meth­ods of de­vel­op­ing new ma­te­ri­als are highly time and re­source in­ten­sive and the dis­cov­ery and de­sign of new ma­te­ri­als with novel prop­er­ties aided by ma­chine learn­ing tech­niques is be­com­ing a hot topic. For ex­am­ple, ANN mod­el­ling has found a place in ap­pli­ca­tions such as the pre­dic­tion of ma­te­rial melt­ing points and the den­sity and vis­cos­ity of bio­fuel com­pounds. Ma­chine learn­ing tech­niques are also be­ing used to sim­u­late the strength of con­crete ma­te­ri­als, a use­ful ap­pli­ca­tion for civil construction projects. Hence, the changes brought in by AI, blockchain and mod­ern tech­nolo­gies have the po­ten­tial to curb en­ergy wastage, in­crease life­cy­cle ef­fi­ciency and pre­cisely cal­cu­late the amount of prod­uct to be pro­duced for a spe­cific pur­pose.

To­day, chem­i­cal com­pa­nies along with their sup­ply chain part­ners take a holis­tic ap­proach to sus­tain­abil­ity; they ed­u­cate their em­ploy­ees about sus­tain­abil­ity and the im­pact of chem­i­cals in the en­vi­ron­ment. The ap­proach helps unify the en­tire com­pany’s out­look to­wards en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion. More­over, with skilled work­force, com­pa­nies can de­velop and pro­duce in­no­va­tive prod­ucts, ser­vices and so­lu­tions for the grow­ing global pop­u­la­tion, while striv­ing to con­serve the planet’s re­sources and re­spect­ing the en­vi­ron­ment.

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