Ushering in a Decade of Sustainable Growth

Petrochemicals industry has enriched human life across countries for all economic and social segments. This is one industry which has impacted humanity in a unique way like no other industry. Petrochemicals products find applications in Health and Hygiene, Infrastructure, Transportations, Agriculture, Consumer durables and non-durables, Textiles, Education, Paints & coatings and Pharma. The list is endless. Petrochemicals are synonymous with human desire to improve their lifestyle.

Petrochemicals industry in its nascent stage used coal and Ethanol as primary feeds. Over the years, with the advent of technology, this industry started taking roots in Europe, America and Japan. This was followed by Middle Eastern countries and then in Asia led by Korea, Taiwan and more recently China. The feedstock shifted from coal / ethanol to crude derived Naphtha and Natural Gas components such as Ethane and Propane. The development of shale in the United States has been a disruptive moment in petrochemical feed slate. At present, there are over 200 operating ethylene crackers across the globe based on various feedstocks catering to the needs of the petrochemical industry.

Recent mega trends in our society are shaping the future of the petrochemical industry in a big way. The emergence of Electric vehicles, and growing environmental concern due to huge plastic gyres floating in the oceans of the world as well as greenhouse gas emissions, and other similar concerns will change the future path of Petrochemical Industry’s growth.

Electric vehicles has the potential to destroy transport fuel demand. The refiners’ solution to meet this challenge is to embark upon the implementation of “Petrochemical” refineries at the grass roots level. Conventional refineries give 8-12 % of its output as Chemicals. Oil to Chemicals will catapult the refinery output to 60-80% chemicals range. Moreover the sheer scale of these refineries will give chemical products capacities which will be among the largest capacities globally and towards the lower end of cost curve. This will change the dynamics of chemical industry going forward.

UNEP has brought about global awareness of the need to manage plastic waste. India was host to 2018 World Environment Day with the theme “Beat Plastic Pollution”. In India the drive to manage plastic waste has assumed national importance and spearheaded by none other than Hon’ble Prime Minister of India himself. Other countries also are faced with similar dilemma of reducing plastics waste and improve on recycling rates. In addition, many Asian countries have legislations on plastic waste imports from developed nations who have to find their own solutions for dealing with plastic waste.

With these concerns and developments, the output of refineries and product range of petrochemicals from existing plants will undergo a radical change. The future trajectory of growth of petrochemical industry is likely to be significantly different compared to the past trends. Products derived from Petrochemicals are wonder products, cost effective, improve the quality of life and have lower life cycle carbon footprint than their natural alternatives. The industry, instead of looking for alternatives to petrochemical products should pledge to manage the petrochemicals in a responsible manner, by taking the lead for reclaim, reuse or re-cycle. Just as an example, technology is available for converting plastic waste into petrochemical feeds thereby enabling full circularity.

End products of petrochemicals for consumer needs will now be designed with collectability and recyclability as prime requirement and ease of use, attractiveness and cost will take a back seat.
Petrochemicals definitely are poised to usher in a decade of Sustainable growth.