To determine the impact of the chemical industry’s contributions to the global economy, the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA; www.icca-chem.org) commissioned Oxford Economics to provide a detailed assessment. Last month, the results were released in the report: The Global Chemical Industry: Catalyzing Growth and Addressing Our World’s Sustainability Challenges (www.icca-chem.org/economicanalysis).
Some of the major findings in the report are: 1) the chemical industry added $1.1 trillion to the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) and employed 15 million people; 2) an additional $4.20 was generated elsewhere in the global economy for every $1 generated by the chemical industry; 3) companies in the chemical industry spent an estimated $3 trillion with their suppliers in 2017; and 4) the chemical industry invested approximately $51 billion in research and development. As defined in this study, the chemical industry did not include refined petroleum products or pharmaceutical products.
Much more than chemicals
Looking beyond the economic impact, the products and services provided by the chemical process industries (CPI) are extraordinarily broad and touch most aspects of our daily lives. In fact, according to the report, the ICCA estimates that over 95% of all manufactured goods rely on some type of industrial chemical process.
Consider advances being made in materials of construction: Lighter weight components for automobiles and airplanes; improved insulation and coatings for use in buildings; chemistry to improve concrete; and materials that make new biomedical devices possible. Many advances in electronics are enabled by CPI products, such as battery technologies, organic light emitting diodes and the latest developments in quantum dots (see the Newsfront on pp. 14–17). Fertilizers and other agrochemicals help to increase food supplies; produced fibers provide clothing and protection, such as in bullet-proof vests; and the variety and uses of plastics are too numerous to list. Contributions to solar panels and energy storage are helping to shape the transformations in the energy sector. Advances in water treatment help to provide an essential clean water supply. And contributions from the CPI toward a sustainable future take many forms, including bio-based processes, recycling developments and technologies related to carbon capture.
A source of innovation
As mentioned in the report, the chemical industry invests heavily in research and development. Chinese chemical companies were found to have spent the most in 2017 at $15 billion, followed by U.S. companies at $12 billion. A look through our Chementator Dept. (pp. 7–11) gives a glimpse into some of the new technologies under development.
Patents are a good indication of innovation. In the U.S., the chemical sector is one of the most patent-intensive alongside electronics, according to the report (for more on patents, see the article on U.S. Patent Rights on pp. 49–56).
The principles of chemical engineering offer a sound basis to work in a wide variety of areas. This versatility is in large part what attracted me to the field and set me on my own journey as a chemical engineer. The advances that are being made and are contributing to so many areas keep the chemical sector one of the most exciting to work in, as well as one of the most influential across other fields. ■
Dorothy Lozowski, Editorial Director