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Chemical firms underline innovation for greener future

Published on 01/05 2021  Source: China Daily


Chemical companies in China believe they have been able to ride out the economic impact of COVID-19 so far, and are beginning to explore fresh growth opportunities the pandemic situation has created, industry experts said.

Among their new focus areas are intelligent manufacture of chemicals, industry digitalization, research and development, low carbon emission technologies, and new materials that can replace plastics, they said.

During the initial phase of the pandemic, chemical firms struggled to resume production and maintain their supply chain activities. Thanks to quick and effective containment of the spread of the novel coronavirus, and availability of adequate personal protective equipment, the industry recovered sooner than expected.

As the New Year 2021 beckons, chemical enterprises find themselves well placed to deal with COVID-related threats, and are realizing that new growth opportunities go hand in hand with challenges, said senior executives during an industry event.

The event is the closing ceremony of Open To Public or OTP Day 2020, which was organized by the Association of International Chemical Manufacturers in Shanghai recently.

The AICM represents more than 70 major foreign investments in China's chemical industry. Its members' businesses span R&D, manufacture, transportation, distribution and disposal of chemicals.

"From the business perspective, COVID-19 brings more opportunities than impacts for the chemical industry. For example, personal protection products like masks, disinfectants and pharmaceuticals are all made with various chemicals," said Jeff Zhu, chairman of AICM and senior vice-president of Cabot Corp, a chemical company.

"Since the second half of this year, demand across the industry chain has been sufficient, and the pandemic's impact has been limited to the period from February to May. In my view, there will be sustainable demand for more chemical materials as well as higher standard chemical products in the long run," Zhu said.

Even after the pandemic gets completely contained, strong development of the whole chemical industry chain will continue, he said.

Zhu's view finds an echo among senior executives of major chemical multinationals in China. The companies will tap into China's consumption upgrade and dual-circulation development pattern, they said.

"As we adapt to the post-COVID-19 'new normal', the world needs more innovation from chemical companies, not only in product innovation but in service innovation and communication innovation," said Yoke Loon Lim, director of AICM and president of Dow's China unit.

The unprecedented challenges of the pandemic period have sensitized both industry insiders and the general public to the critical role of chemicals in everyday life. Chemicals are everywhere, supporting people's health and wellness in a variety of ways and forms.

Hence, "we (industry people) are always inspired to unceasingly explore more innovations", Lim said.

"Since the outbreak of COVID-19, we quickly decided to significantly reduce the number of on-site employees and shift local control to remote control at our Shanghai center," said Li Zhenmin, head of multinational industrial gases and engineering company Linde in China and an adviser to AICM.

Li said most of Linde's plants across China can be controlled and operated in Shanghai with digital solutions, and Linde is constantly developing intelligent methodologies and vigorously exploring e-commerce to attract customers.

"As a traditional B2B(business-to-business) enterprise, we've deployed a lot of resources to online marketing so far this year," Li said.

China has the world's most cutting-edge and advanced chemical industry chain, boasting more than 30 percent of the world's chemical output.

Every chemical company in China should make a long-term plan based on its positioning, strengthen the R&D abilities and focus on core businesses, Zhu said.

Toward that goal, Linde has thousands of patented technologies to help its clients cut greenhouse emissions, and efforts in this direction are continuing, Li said.

For its part, Cabot Corp will pay particular attention to R&D of new energy applications, or photovoltaic, solar energy, and lithium-ion batteries.

In China as well as the rest of the world, the plastics industry is now subject to higher production and environmental standards, in order to reduce sales and daily use of its products. Chemical companies are developing scientific, harmless solutions for treatment of plastic products. This is a challenge as well as an opportunity for the future, said Sun Lihong, president for Solvay in China and an adviser to AICM.

There is a certain "chemistry "between the chemical industry and human society that underlines sustained efforts for building a greener, healthier and better future for everyone, said Fernando Vallina, chairman of ExxonMobil (China) Investment Co Ltd and an AICM director.