The chemical industry is undertaking rapid reform
- from Shaastra :: vol 03 issue 01 :: Jan - Feb 2024
The chemical industry is trying to clean up its act with novel processes and techniques.
Time takes its toll on technology. Take the Haber-Bosch process, once hailed as a revolutionary method for producing ammonia. Today, the chemical industry is working overtime to find eco-friendly alternatives to the energy-intensive system. Electrochemical methods are expected to start replacing the old process within five years.
It’s one step among many being contemplated by the chemical industry. The sector is vast — some of the largest chemicals by volume go into the making of other chemicals such as fertilisers, textiles and petrochemicals. Chemicals are also essential inputs for making computer chips, medicines, fuels, smart phones and so on. In 2021, chemical companies produced over 50,000 formulations and chemicals worth $4.7 trillion. However, the industry is also a significant source of pollution. The manufacture of chemicals spews particulate matter, volatile organic compounds and large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. To combat this, the industry is undergoing rapid reform, a process that will continue over the next decade.
Though chemicals have been in use for centuries, chemistry lacked a sound theoretical foundation until the 19th century. The chemical industry grew in that century as a phase of the industrial revolution. The ones that benefited the most were the textile and fertiliser industries. The use of sulphuric acid, alkali, soaps, dyes and synthetic fibres helped increase the production of cloth between the late 19th and early 20th centuries, while the Haber-Bosch process of producing ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen revolutionised the production of nitrogenous fertilisers.