Wednesday, 24 February 2021

The Future of the Chemicals and Plastics Industry: Emerging Technologies, The Great Reset, Sustainability, and Post COVID-19 (Part 1)

 


Hello and welcome to this blog post about the future of the chemical and in particular the plastics industry. I do not have a crystal ball to predict the future, however we can envision it based on the current megatrends. This is my attempt to do so and since this is a broad topic, I split the post in two major parts:

Part 1: the present time plus 3 years (2021 and post COVID-19 phase) and

Part 2: the near future: 2025 – 2035

Let us get started with the first part.

Emerging technologies

In their latest foresight report, Lux research [1] presented 12 emerging technologies which will have great potential to strive after the COVID-19 Pandemic time. Among the 12 technologies, five are in particular important for the chemical and plastics industry:

-       Advanced plastics recycling

-       Materials informatics (the use of machine learning in materials development)

-       Additive manufacturing (3D printing)  

-       Synthetic biology

-       Digital sales platforms

Advanced plastics recycling is an important cornerstone for the plastics industry to become a circular economy. Plastic waste will be a viable feedstock available in a decentralized way. The commoditization of customization is achieved by digital material platforms which decrease inefficiencies and minimize the difference between a commodity and a specialty business.

Growth is important, however qualitative growth is much more relevant than growth over consuming more things.

Emerging Technologies to watch in 2021 and beyond (The Future of Chemical and Plastics Industry).

The Great Reset

In the year 2020, Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, presented the three core components of the Great Reset [2, 3]. He is referring to the post COVID-19 time which offers an opportunity to "reset and reshape" the world. The idea is to align the world more with the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

What are the three core components [2]?

1.    Stakeholder Economy: aim is to create conditions for a stakeholder capitalism. This includes the policy improvement on taxes, regulations, fiscal policies, and trade to obtain fairer outcomes for stake- and shareholders.

2.    Building green urban infrastructures and creating incentives for businesses to improve their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) metrics.

3.    4th Industrial Revolution: how to use the innovations of the 4th Industrial Revolution for the public good.  

Globally our population is growing. The middle classes are expanding too and more people will escape poverty, which is very positive for all of us. The demand in chemical and materials is expected to quadruple by 2050 and to fulfill the Paris climate agreement, the chemical industry needs to shift to a net-zero emission industry. Reaching such aims is facilitated by using low carbon emitting technologies in the production plants.

Solar electrification of chemical operations is ongoing. For example, specialty material producer Solvay is with 81.4 MW installed capacity among the top ten companies in the US for solar adoption [4].

Top 10 Players in the US using solar energy to power their plants [4].


Sustainability

With the Green New Deal agenda on the start in the European Union, the focus on the UN Sustainable development goals (SDGs) will further increase [5].

Pressure on the chemical and plastics industry will increase to accelerate the transition towards circular business and operation models. Together with a reduction of the environmental footprint of the operations to protect biodiversity on a global scale. Downside may be more regulations set by the EU and directing certain sectors into the wrong direction [6]. Furthermore, the Green New Deal agenda is in contradiction to the Jan Tinbergen Rule of Thumb which states that a political instrument cannot efficiently achieve two goals at the same time [7, 8].

Conclusions first part

The rebound of the economy has already started, especially in Asia. Worldwide companies try to catch up and profit of the rebound. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the digitalization of chemical business operations. Furthermore, investment companies such as BlackRock increased the focus on sustainable investing. This means that capital will flow more and more to companies which try to solve the world’s biggest challenges. The combination of the steps shown above will allow the plastics industry to be part of this trend too. 

In the second part we discuss a possible transformation of the plastics industry in terms of business models and how it can keep up with the growth of tech companies in the long run.

Thanks for reading and #findoutaboutplastics

Greetings,

Herwig Juster

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Literature

[1] https://www.luxresearchinc.com/hubfs/2020%20Executive%20Summaries/1%20-%202020%20Executive%20Summaries%20-%20Press%20Versions/Foresight%202021%20Executive%20Summary%20-%20press.pdf

[2] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/06/now-is-the-time-for-a-great-reset/

[3] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/08/building-blocks-of-the-great-reset/

[4] https://solarmeansbusiness.com/

[5] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/21/climate/green-new-deal-questions-answers.html

[6] https://www.welt.de/wirtschaft/article226970437/Folgen-des-Green-Deal-Top-Oekonomen-warnen-vor-den-Gefahren-des-Klima-Primats.html

[7] https://www.investopedia.com/terms/j/jan-tinbergen.asp

[8] https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/in-economics-what-is-tinbergen-rule/article24332615.ece#:~:text=This%20refers%20to%20a%20rule,precludes%20the%20achievement%20of%20others.

[9] https://www.blackrock.com/us/individual/investment-ideas/sustainable-investingIdea collection


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