Although we don’t always see it, chemical processes and compounds impact our everyday life. From wellbeing to health and safety, a substantial number of products come from upstream material and downstream chemical production or contain at least one chemical process during the manufacturing process.
As it impacts energy, manufacturing, life science and consumer goods, to name just a few, the global chemical industry is an integral part of the global economy. It’s only likely to grow in the coming years and become even more important in our lives.
In 2020, the Chemistry Council identified four key themes they believed will continue to develop in the next few years and will benefit society around the world. Here we talk about those key themes extracted from our Chemical Innovations in 2020 whitepaper, and how they could impact everyone.
Advanced materials and molecules
To meet the needs of society, now and in the future, new and advanced innovative materials are necessary. With a focus on sustainability and using renewable resources, the UK’s research and development (R&D) strategy going forward in the chemical industry needs to focus on working with the planet, not against it.
- Advanced Materials for Health and Well-being. Advancements are crucial to medicinal and pharmaceutical production, including increasing the UK’s drug discovery capacity and ensuring cost-effective methods are developed.
- Advanced Materials for Composites. Composites are formed from constituent materials which can generate unconventional physical properties compared to its original form, which can be applied to enhance its structural integrity and strength. The creation of these composites will support other key UK sectors such as automotive and construction.
Green supply chains
There is an ever-growing focus on the environment, with the UK working towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Agenda sets out how the country will reduce hazardous chemicals and combat the increase in the global temperature.
R&D in technology helps drive the change needed through recycling and reusing waste in the most efficient and effective way possible.
- Sustainable Materials for Consumer Products. Recyclable materials which have biodegradable properties will encourage the circular economy needed to support greener supply chains from during its cradle to grave life cycle.
- Sustainable Packaging. Eliminating single-use plastics are key to reducing plastic wastage, with sustainable packaging being at the heart of this aim.
- Energy-efficient Buildings. As buildings are responsible for a large amount of the world’s energy consumption, improving their energy efficiency is essential, such as complying with standards that aim to reduce the building’s ecological footprint (e.g. Passivhaus).
Energy storage and distribution
Moving forward, the growing electricity demand, such as for electric vehicles and renewable sources, means a diversification of storage and network is needed. Energy and battery storage diversification will play a crucial role in future electricity storage and increasing the capacity needed.
- The Hydrogen Economy. A source of low carbon energy, hydrogen could be a future fuel but technology needs to be developed to drive efficiencies and reduce costs in the processing of such fuel and implementation of a hydrogen network.
- Car Batteries. Electric vehicles are currently limited by their battery capacity, and therefore batteries need to be developed to ensure the market can keep up with demand to ensure longer lifetimes and cycles.
Digitalisation & big data
Expected to alter productivity and drive innovation, digitalisation and big data is another change expected in the chemical industry. Digital technology is expected to help chemical companies capture data and draw insights at lower costs as well as minimise downtime to improve time efficiency and the economic viability of processes.
- Digitalisation of Supply Chains. By integrating technology throughout the supply chain, it will increase visibility, ease product management and gain efficiencies.
- New Process Technologies. Adopting new process technologies will enable businesses to better manage materials and output as well as create new enterprising opportunities.