Challenges for Water Resources
As populations, water-intensive manufacturing, and requirements for agriculture continue to expand in regions such as India, China, and the American Southwest, water quality and availability issues are becoming urgent.
Clean water is required for high-tech manufacturing in biotechnology, electronics, and other sectors; use of water within chemical operations must be minimized; and zero-discharge chemical plants offer challenges and opportunities to chemical innovation. The chemical industry must find new technologies for treating and delivering fresh water.
Presentations and discussion in this session explored the broad question of what new technologies are being developed and which are still required. The latest applications of modeling for water systems were also examined.
Chemistry of Energy Sources
With oil production at or near its peak, and the cost of oil hovering at $100 per barrel, the chemical industry is intensifying its search for alternative energy sources that are more abundant, renewable, and environmentally friendly.
Methods that show promise include bio-based fuels, hydrogen fuel, advanced solar systems, and wind. Nuclear energy has certainly received a setback with the Japanese tsunami, but will it still play a role? Meanwhile innovations that minimize energy losses from generation to transmission to consumption lead to more efficient energy use.
Presentations and discussion in this session focused on the potential and challenges for natural gas, including shale gas, and advances made in CO2 capture and sequestration as it relates to “clean coal” and other related processes.
Bio-Based Chemical Feedstocks
Driven by the public’s interest in sustainability and the increasing cost of fossil fuels, many companies are exploring ways to produce basic petrochemicals from renewable sources rather than crude oil.
The goal of applying emerging technologies that can economically convert biomass to chemicals now seems tantalizing close. Although a number of companies have announced plants to produce products like butanediol, acrylic acid, and bio-plastics, formidable scale-up, feedstock supply, and logistics issues remain.
This breakout discussed the concept of bio-refineries and specific applications for chemicals from cellulosic feedstocks.
Increased Food Production and the Chemical Industry
The latest projections by the United Nations show the world population increasing by 34%, to just over 9 billion by 2050, with nearly all the growth occurring in developing countries. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) projects a resultant 70% increase in demand for food.
With limited additional arable land available, 90% of the supply that satisfies this demand must come from increased yields or nutritional content. All of this will create considerable technological challenges for farmers, seed companies, chemical companies, and others, on wide-ranging issues such as water usage/efficiency, pesticide/herbicide consumption, land productivity, and the development of new traits.
Featuring speakers from our largest chemical companies in the agricultural sector, this breakout group discussed advances in both crop protection chemicals and in genetically altered plants that promise increased yield and tolerance for a wider range of environmental conditions.
Sustainable Chemistry and Technology
As sustainability becomes an economic necessity, fundamentally new chemical transformations must be developed using green and sustainable chemistry and engineering to minimize environmental impact.
Following the principle that it is better to prevent waste than to clean up after it, researchers are developing new processes and products and also improving catalytic selectivity and efficiency in chemical reactions that also provide cost savings. Many chemical companies have found sustainability can be a competitive advantage.
This session's presentations and discussion concentrated on using life-cycle assessment to guide R&D programs.