Article | July 14, 2022
The chemical business is intricate, with numerous sub-sectors dealing with various challenges. Thus, there are some differences in the sector's main areas of digitalization. For instance, while specialty chemicals with smaller batches but larger profit margins are concerned with improving quality, large factories are concentrated on accelerating throughput speed.
To be able to react to quick and repeated changes in demand, supply, and working circumstances, however, every plant must optimize output, reduce waste, improve safety and sustainability, and become more nimble. Therefore, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), artificial intelligence (AI), and cloud computing are expected to be the three most popular applications for digital transformation during the coming two years.
The first and most valuable use cases of digitalization in chemical plants center on production optimization through improved equipment performance, process automation, remote and predictive monitoring, and simplified maintenance.
Chemical factories, which often provide basic chemicals for use as end products in other sectors, have a special responsibility to maintain consistently high product quality. However, doing so can be challenging given the significant variations in raw material supply and quality. In addition, as process engineers can change the mix on the fly in reaction to fluctuations in quality, feedstock, or ambient temperatures, better data and analytics enable finer and more frequent adjustments.
The main advantage of digitally transformed plants so far has been cost reduction. The price volatility of raw materials is a problem for the chemical production sector because customers naturally want constant low prices. Minimizing waste is critical since facilities must contend with rising energy costs.
Analytics tools that monitor fluctuating raw material prices aid factories in negotiating the best deals with suppliers and preparing in advance for price spikes. The risk of oversupply is reduced since plants can prepare the proper quantities of various products thanks to more precise demand predictions.
Sustainability, Compliance, and Safety
The chemical industry is heavily regulated as a result of the quantity of hazardous chemicals and the number of end-use industries that rely on it. Businesses are adopting digital transformation to boost safety awareness, reduce emissions and dangerous flare incidents, and guarantee a transparent and accurate audit trail.
Plants that quickly adopt digital solutions for remote monitoring, supply chain visibility, waste reduction, production optimization, raising their safety profile, and opening up new opportunities will profit from higher profits and increased revenue, whereas those that hesitate for too long risk failing in the long run.
Article | July 8, 2022
Over the next five to seven years, the chemical sector will place a greater emphasis on sustainability, and digitization will play a significant part in this. Reducing resource use, pollution, energy consumption, and waste are some of its main applications. Additionally, it will increase demand for a circular economy supported by IoT, AI, and other digital technologies.
Some of the systems now in place or being used in the sector include autonomous solutions that enable lower energy usage, dispatching systems for effective logistics and strategies for sustainable power and fuel consumption.
Chemical players making the switch to digital platforms have a chance to triumph if they move swiftly and update their operational models in accordance with a few common success characteristics. In fact, according to our study, making the correct decisions can increase total earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization by 3 percent or more (EBITDA).
The Next Step of Operational Excellence
The same level of transformation is available with digital technology for optimal performance, together with success-enabling measures. The same level of corporate participation and realignment will also be necessary for the effective implementation of digital technology.
Finance and telecoms were early leaders in adopting digital technology faster than the chemical sector, which has just recently started to move in more significant numbers toward digitalization.
A circular economy in the sector is also being enabled by the use and evaluation of digital technology. The "Right to Fix" movement is being driven by governments and legislators in Europe and the US, and small and medium-sized businesses in the industry are expected to invest in technology that makes it easier to repair electronic items with the least amount of waste.
On a side note, by enabling the re-use of resources and products throughout the supply chain, digitalization with lean manufacturing (LM) would enable businesses to improve operational excellence and create value, thereby supporting the circular economy goal.
Given its extensive safety and regulatory requirements, the chemical sector has evolved slowly. However, as the global economy changes, some skills will become obsolete and others essential.
The interconnectedness of people, processes, and technology, as well as the requirement for real-time insight at the levels closest to the action, are among the basic principles of Industry 4.0. These values have existed for some time and are an extension of our teams' current operational excellence initiatives.
Digital transformation is not a technology endpoint but rather the following stage in the process and business evolution as the chemicals industry advances continuously.
Article | July 20, 2022
An enzyme-mimicking catalyst opens a new route to important organic molecules such as glycolic acid and amino acids from pyruvate, report researchers in Japan. Moreover, the new catalyst is cheaper, more stable, safer and more environmentally friendly than conventional metal catalysts used in industry, they note, adding that it also displays the high enantioselectivity required by the pharmaceutical industry.
“On top of these advantages, our newly developed organic catalyst system also promotes reactions using pyruvate that aren’t easily achievable using metal catalysts,” says Santanu Mondal, a PhD candidate in the chemistry and chemical bioengineering unit at Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) Graduate University, Okinawa, Japan, and lead author of a study recently published in Organic Letters.
“Organic catalysts, in particular, are set to revolutionize the industry and make chemistry more sustainable,” he stresses.
The researchers use an acid and an amine mixture to force the pyruvate to act as an electron donor rather than its usual role as an electron receiver (Figure 1).
Effectively mimicking how enzymes work, the amine binds to the pyruvate to make an intermediate molecule. The organic acid then covers up part of the intermediate molecule while leaving another part that can donate electrons free to react to form a new product.
Currently, the organic catalyst system only works when reacting pyruvate with a specific class of organic molecule called cyclic imines.
So, the researchers now are looking to develop a more-universal catalyst, i.e., one that can speed up reactions between pyruvate and a broad range of organic molecules.
The challenge here is to try to make the electron-donating intermediate stage of pyruvate react with other functional groups such as aldehydes and ketones. However, different catalysts create different intermediates, all with different properties. For example, the enamine intermediate created by the researchers’ new reaction only reacts with cyclic imines. Their hypothesis, currently being investigated, is that creation of other intermediates such as an enolate, if possible, would achieve a broader pyruvate reactivity.
In terms of cost, the researchers note that a palladium catalyst used in similar reactions is 25 times more expensive than their organic acid — which also is made from eco-friendly quinine.
In addition, they believe scale-up of the process for industrial use definitely is possible. However, the researchers caution that the current amine-to-acid-catalyst loading ratio of 1:2 probably would need to be optimized for better results at a larger scale.
Article | June 3, 2021
ONE OF THE GREATEST achievements of the last 30 years has been the fall in the number of people living in extreme poverty.In 1999, 1.9bn of the world’s population were living on less than $1.90, the Word Bank’s definition of extreme poverty. Despite setbacks caused by the pandemic, this had fallen to 698m by October 2020.
Income levels alone are not enough to escape the life-threatening agony of extreme poverty. There is no point in having money if the essential goods and services to spend your money on are not available.
Critical to poverty alleviation has been sufficient supply of all the things that people in the rich world take for granted. The raw materials to make the vast majority of manufactured goods include petrochemicals and polymers.
Nearly all the major manufacturing chains would not have been able to function without petrochemicals.
Think of medical equipment, syringes, blood bags, hospital gowns, face masks, pill bottles and medicine blister packs. None of the above could have been produced without petrochemicals.
As people emerged out of extreme poverty and as economies became wealthier, modern-day medical services became more widely available.