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Chemical industry innovation can drive more than growth

October 20, 2015
Chemical Value Chain

(ICIS) – Product innovation drives growth in the chemical industry as well as opportunity. “Now, more than ever, chemicals are the building blocks of modern life,” says ExxonMobil.

“Chemicals play a key role in fields integral to human progress, including transportation, agriculture, pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, as well as efficient manufacturing and packaging of a wide array of consumer goods.

“Gains in technology will remain essential and should be promoted. This is vital to maximising economic opportunities and boosting living standards the world over.”

The energy giant is a Category Sponsor for the ICIS Innovation Awards, the winners of which were announced on Monday.

The overall winner in 2015 and the winner in the best product innovation category is AkzoNobel and its non-biocidal anti-slime coating for marine shipping.

The development of the company’s Intersleek 1100SR involved a multi-disciplinary team, and collaboration with academia. The product addresses a clear need – to tackle fouling by slime on the hulls of sea-going vessels.

Ship owners understand the impact that slime has on drag and a vessel’s performance so the product addresses a clear need. It addresses energy use and sustainability too, criteria that are seen as essential by the awards judging panel.

The fact that there were a record number of entries for this year’s awards is greatly encouraging. AkzoNobel was the unanimous winner based on the product, the chemistry employed, the way it was developed and a business model that ensured that the product qualifies for carbon dioxide (CO2) credits.

Ship owners using the coating can save millions of dollars through fuel savings and carbon credits.

The category winners this year reflect the way chemical industry innovation is turned to address societal needs. The Best Business Innovation award went to Enerkem, which runs a full-scale commercial plant to produce renewable chemicals and biofuels from non-recyclable municipal waste in Edmonton, Alberta.

Cella Energy has developed a means of storing hydrogen in pellet form. When combined with a fuel cell, the material can deliver three times as much energy as a good lithium-ion battery.

Cella won the award for the Best Innovation by an SME (small to medium sized enterprise).

Global Green Products was given the award for Innovation with the Best Benefit for the Environment and Sustainability for a polymeric additive that can reduce the amount of fresh water needed to operate an oil well. It inhibits the formation of sodium chloride and other mineral scales in extraction equipment.

The ICIS Innovation Awards judges did not make an award in the Best Process Innovation category.

The awards demonstrate that innovation is alive and well in the chemical industry. For most companies, it is part of their lifeblood helping them work more closely with customers to address specific needs.

Companies, of course, cannot do everything and will usually focus expertise aligned to their product portfolios. That does not mean that they lack serendipity but their innovation efforts are channelled towards the technologies that are most likely to continue to give them a competitive edge.

This is how chemical companies can deliver, in ExxonMobil’s word “ideas and solutions” to customers.

Few firms, however, have the resources or the inkling to undertake much in the way of fundamental, or blue sky chemicals or materials research. This is where support for and partnerships with academia are so important.

“Countries should step up their investment in long-term R&D to develop frontier technologies that will reshape industry, healthcare and communications and provide urgently needed solutions to global challenges like climate change,” the OECD (the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) said on Monday*.

“Public funding has underpinned many of the technologies driving growth today, from the digital economy to genomics. We must continue to lay the technological foundations for new inventions and solutions to global challenges like climate change and ageing and must not let investment in long-term research wane,” said OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria.

Countries and companies are engaged in a continuous but healthy race. Indeed, the stakes are the continued health of individuals and the planet.

The chemical industry has to see itself as part of the solution to many of the world’s problems as well as sometimes a contributor to its ills. The real challenge is to advance the former at the expense of the latter.

By Nigel Davis

Source:ICIS News

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