U.S. Launches International Year of Chemistry

February 11, 2011 - Philadelphia, PA

From Chemical Week, February 11, 2011

By Robert Westervelt

Industry leaders highlighted chemistry’s contributions to solving global challenges in energy, water, food, and human health at the U.S. launch of the UN’s International Year of Chemistry, held earlier this month at the Chemical Heritage Foundation (Philadelphia).

The UN has given the industry a unique opportunity and global stage to demonstrate and assert the critical role it can play in addressing urgent global challenges, says Dow Chemical chairman and CEO Andrew Liveris. Industry must “seize the year,” he adds.

Liveris highlighted industry’s contributions to meeting growing energy demands. “From a science perspective, this is an incredible opportunity to use the might of chemistry to solve a problem that our political system cannot solve on its own,” Liveris says. “At a business level, it is an opportunity to create new markets, meet new demands, and, most importantly, to make products that can solve this massive problem.” In the U.S., energy consumption will grow 14% by 2035 while globally, the Internaional Energy Agency (Paris) forecasts a rise of 70% by 2050. “The real test is figuring out how to do it while transitioning to a low-carbon economy,” Liveris says. Industry should focus innovation on areas that can make the biggest possible gains in reducing carbon emissions, including power generation, transportation, and buildings and construction, Liveris says. Industry also needs to support efforts to increase energy efficiency and conservation, and efforts to diversify energy and feedstock supplies, he adds. “We require clear signals from policy makers in order to unleash private investment for building the low-carbon economy,” Liveris says. “And to get there, we must commit ourselves. We must take responsibility for this change—to embrace it, to shape it—and to engage the world in making it a reality.”

DuPont chair and CEO Ellen Kullman spoke on the challenges of a world where population growth will increase from 7 billion in 2011 to 9 billion by 2050. “We must place more emphasis on collective ingenuity to grow more crops,” Kullman says. “The science of growing food combines advances in conventional breeding with innovations unleashed through the advent of chemistry, biotechnology and advanced processes that build more robust seeds, crop protection products, and healthier and safer food solutions,” she says. “Science is the solution if we are to double our agricultural output to meet the needs of the world population in 2050, and do it in a sustainable way to reduce our environmental footprint and conserve the precious resources available to us.”. . . 

Chemistry can be key to addressing challenges in water, food, and land, says Janet Hering, director of the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology. Chemistry is an important part, but not the only solution, she says. Society needs to meet the challenge of providing access to resources such as “water, food and land in a way that does not compromise the ability of the environment to provide critical ecosystem services,” she says. “Chemistry will be part but not the only part. We need to cross disciplinary boundaries,” she says. “We need to engage with engineers, others in the natural sciences as well as social scientists.”

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