This has certainly been a year to remember, and as 2020 comes to an end this month, I expect we are all looking forward to the new year with hope. There are encouraging signs for better days to come. While at the time of this writing, the coronavirus is taking a strong hold again this fall, we have also received welcome news about effective vaccines on the horizon. And for the chemical process industries (CPI), third quarter financial reports are showing signs of recovery. Kevin Swift, chief economist at the American Chemistry Council (ACC; www.americanchemistry.com) says that “With six consecutive months of gains, the October CAB [Chemical Activity Barometer] reading remains consistent with recovery in the U.S. economy.” The CAB is a leading economic indicator created by the ACC. For an update on the economic outlook, join us this month as Kevin Swift presents the latest information in a webcast, scheduled for December 15. Details can be found on www.chemengonline.com.
While the CPI include a wide variety of processes and products, there are a number of common trends that we expect to continue to grow in the coming year and beyond.
Digitalization. By creating situations that called for quick response times to changing production and supply needs, along with the need for more remote activities, the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital technologies. The use of virtual and augmented reality, digital twins, data analytics and more is growing. Robotics, for example, which have been used to carry out mundane repetitive tasks in discrete manufacturing, are now increasingly being used for tasks where safety is a concern, such as in tank inspections and more. And with advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning, robotics are finding applications in much more advanced tasks in the CPI. See our Newsfront on robotics in this issue for more on this.
Sustainable chemistry. The CPI have been reporting on sustainability goals for some time, and focus in this area is intensifying as concerns about climate change and the environment by consumers, investors, governments and corporations grow. The CPI are involved in many sustainability initiatives, just one example of which is the “Carbon Partnership Report 2020: Sustainability through Sports” issued by Dow (www.dow.com) last month. Several areas with high activity include the following:
Alternative energy sources. The CPI are active in the overall energy transition, including work on energy storage and other contributions to renewable energy efforts, such as materials for solar panels. And as reported in this column last month, there is a strong push to develop green hydrogen as well as carbon capture technologies.
Alternative raw material and process routes to the traditional petroleum-based routes. This month’s cover stories explore some of the best practices and advances in bioprocessing, which is one route companies are taking toward a circular economy.
Recycling technologies. Attention to the impact that plastic waste is having on our environment has fueled advances in recycling technologies that include new approaches to mechanical and chemical recycling. Numerous alliances and collaborations have formed to address recycling challenges.
As technologies in these and other areas continue to advance, we look forward to continuing to bring this information to you in the new year.
Dorothy Lozowski, Editorial Director