The Chemical Revolution – by Andrew Stoneham Knott

The crude oil price rise during the 1970’s spawned a new era in chemical production.  There was a very small but significant market shift away from synthetic chemicals and towards bio or green chemicals.  In other words, chemicals made from environmentally friendly and renewable resources.  These chemicals were seen to be more sustainable, and better for the environment, as was becoming the fashion.  Consumers were beginning to become more aware of the planet and that human behaviour might actually be costing the earth.  The cost of producing traditional chemicals became more prohibitive, which also encouraged the move towards green chemicals.  This set off a demand for new raw materials that has continued for the last four decades.  Chemicals are present in 90% of all our manufactured goods, so sustainability and cost are key drivers for this rapidly growing market.

In today’s world, we are faced with limited resources, an expanding population, increasing consumption and climate change.  These elements lead to demand from the consumer, who want their detergent, toothpaste, mobile phones and plastic – to name but a few – to be made from a sustainable and renewable resource.  Enter the green chemical revolution.

Driving efficiency from energy is key to all of our futures, and this involves change.  Particularly chemical change.  The chemistry enterprise has many roles in sustainability.  It provides chemicals, materials and technologies that improve the safe and efficient use of energy and natural resources in a responsible way – by protecting human and environmental health.  The chemical industry is well placed to help achieve this with high volume supply chains that provide opportunities to leverage improvements in materials sourcing, efficiency and waste reduction to work towards this common goal.

For the chemist or the engineer, the green revolution is something to embrace.  Being part of a worldwide movement that is working through innovation towards minimising environmental and health implications is an exciting challenge indeed.  This central science of developing sustainable technologies and innovations begins in the classroom, so we must nurture our young talent to help them become the stars of research and development of the future.  This is positive news indeed.  However, the professional system in which scientists and engineers operate now could be improved further to incentivise and support these efforts, which is where we come in.

At Miramar, we joined the revolution when it was a seed of an idea.  Perhaps we are even helping to grow it.  By providing impeccable research, unrivalled market knowledge and innovative candidate selections to some of the biggest market players, we are ideally placed to follow our own principles and work towards a more sustainable and environmentally satisfactory solution for all of our futures.

There is historical rarity for start up business models to work in the chemical world, but this is changing.  Funding is becoming a more realistic expectation for the R & D arms of both established and new organisations making forays in to the bio chemical world.  It takes time to move from the lab based innovation stage to the worldwide distribution model, so one gets the feeling that something big is just about to happen.

Perhaps this is where it gets exciting.  The global sustainable chemical market is set to grow from an estimated £11 Billion in 2015 to an estimated £100 Billion in 2020.  Support for the research promoting sustainability, green chemistry and green engineering, combined with incentives for the adoption of sustainable products and processes will be instrumental in protecting human health and our environment, as well as meeting our social and energy needs and strengthening the economy.

China has emerged as the biggest investment player in the market, with the USA and Japan snapping at their heels.  The UK alone has made £24.5 million available via the Energy Catalyst, which is linked to the Department of Energy and Climate Change.  Not small change in our austerity driven times.

In comparrison to the global synthetic chemical industry which is currently thought to be worth around $4 Trillion, the green chemical industry has some way to go.  As an emerging market, many green technologies are still at the R & D stage, and are thought to be many years off of production scale usage.  Most green chemical companies are targeting large, existing chemical markets, so that the actual ability to feed the market may not be held back by the research itself, but by scaling up the product to meet the enormous needs of the market it serves.  Constant growth in this market is providing truly exciting opportunities for the right individuals.

As with all new technologies cost is a factor.  How to produce the right product at the right cost for market?  As consumers, we all want a greener safer option.  But consumers are also cost savvy, and while a small uplift in cost for a “cleaner” product may be acceptable initially, as time moves on and the technology with it, the consumer will demand that products remain attainable and affordable.  We are standing on the brink of a new and exciting scientific future.


Discover more about our expertise in this area.
Connect with us

Connect with us