Volume 9 | Issue 2 | Year 2006

The chemical industry affects our lives in multiple ways, from our clothes to our iPODS – in fact, virtually everything we see and touch on a daily basis have been enhanced by the science of chemistry – and more advances are on the way.

To manage the complex changes in this industry, technical and business leaders began a study in 1994 on the factors affecting the competitiveness of the industry in a rapidly changing, global business environment and set out to develop a vision for its future. The resulting report, Technology Vision 2020: The U.S. Chemical Industry (American Chemical Society, 1996) answered a request from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to provide an industrial perspective on how the U.S. government could better allocate R&D funding to advance the manufacturing base of the U.S. economy.

Vision2020 was formed in September 2001 to more effectively accelerate progress in areas of research that are high risk and resource intensive, yet are necessary to the industry’s long-term competitiveness and sustainability. Vision2020’s approach is to foster collaborative R&D between the three research sectors of industry, government, and universities in areas of promising or emerging technology, resulting in widespread implementation of breakthrough technologies to enhance competitiveness of the chemical industry and address societal needs.

The Chemical Industry Vision2020 Technology Partnership leverages financial and technical resources to produce a sustainable, internationally competitive chemical industry that is characterized by continued economic growth, new products, improved processes, energy conservation, and environmental compatibility to satisfy the expectations of shareholders, employees, communities, and government. Vision 2020 has focused a significant portion of its effort on technology advances that yield energy efficiency improvements and alternatives to energy-intensive feedstocks. Another focus has been industry-changing developments like nanotechnology and ionic liquids.

The Chemical Industry Vision2020 Partnership is comprised of leading chemical companies that have pledged their time and resources to the partnership. The Vision2020 Steering Committee plans, coordinates, prioritizes and initiates activities for the benefit of all stakeholders – industry, academia, and the public – and measures Vision2020’s success. Steering committee members include Air Products, INEOS (formerly BP/Innovene), Cabot Corporation, Ciba Specialty Chemicals, Dow, Dupont, Eastman Chemical, General Electric, Praxair, Rohm and Haas, Shell, Solutia, and Washington Savannah River Company. Also sitting on the steering committee are representatives of the American Chemical Society, American Institute of Chemical Engineers, the Council for Chemical Research and the Materials Technology Institute. Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) provides technical support to Vision2020 through funding provided by the Department of Energy Industrial Technology Program’s Industry of the Future.

During 2005 Vision2020 worked on promoting collaborations in advanced low-energy separations, ionic liquids, nanotechnology, process intensification and alternative feedstocks. Of particular note is the work on nanotechnology in collaboration with both the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) and the semiconductor industry. The chemical industry employs materials and processes particularly suited to improvement through application of nanoscale technologies. They also represent a major prospect for substantial, near-term adoption of nanoscale technologies with sustained benefits in health care, communications, food, clothing, housing, energy, electronics, and transportation.

In 2005, Vision2020, in conjunction with the Semiconductor Research Corporation, developed a set of recommendations for priority R&D for the NNI in three areas related to Environmental Health and Safety (EHS): toxicity of nanomaterials, measurement and detection of nanomaterials; worker protection and industrial hygiene. These recommendations were presented to the Nanotechnology Environmental and Health Implications working group of the National Science and Technology Council. A searchable database containing over 1,300 records was developed and will be maintained by Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology (CBEN) at Rice University.

Also in 2005, Vision2020 and Los Alamos National Laboratory published a study of the potential value of nanotechnology with rough estimates of possible energy savings. The study projected value creation of $10 – $20 billion/year and energy savings of 0.5 to 1.1 quadrillion BTU/year for a narrow set of materials (catalysts, coatings, and membranes) in a limited set of applications (chemical industry, petroleum refining and natural gas production, automotive industry, maritime industry, and manufacturing).

Vision2020 is presently developing a detailed implementation plan for the nanomaterials R&D roadmap in several key areas: synthesis and assembly; characterization, modeling and simulation; and manufacturing and processing. Two efforts are proceeding: 1) a joint effort with National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the semiconductor industry on multi-level modeling, measurement, and nanomaterial properties and 2) an effort on nanomanufacturing unit operations.

Energy and more
Vision2020 also identified ionic liquids as an emerging technology area that could significantly benefit the chemical industry by providing more efficient synthesis and processing systems, while at the same time reducing environmental impacts. Research into the design of ionic liquids, their long-term performance in an industrial environment, scale-up for commercial production, and incorporation into processing equipment is essential to commercially advance this field.

In addition, advanced separations technology is needed for existing industrial processes, as well as for supporting the development of new process chemistries, catalysts, bioprocesses, reaction engineering, and nanotechnology. High priority research applications for the chemical industry include low energy separations with reduced capital costs, such as hybrid separations systems. Recent studies on low-energy separations indicate that research should be focused on robust systems suitable for conditions found in reaction processes of commercial interest and that show both significant advantages over current technology and attractive returns on capital investment. These research needs have been incorporated into government funding solicitations, and it is expected that research will be funded in these areas.

A key area for 2006 is the energy situation, which has severely impacted the chemical industry. Since the chemical industry uses hydrocarbon feedstocks, changes in energy prices directly affect the industry costs. A working group is investigating the possibilities for research collaboration in alternative feedstocks. The goal is to identify opportunities for research in coal, biomass, oil shale, tar sands and unconventional methane sources to replace petroleum-based feedstocks for large-scale chemical production that would generate savings in supply, reduce costs, and increase energy security.

With all of these activities well underway, Vision2020 is working toward a future that will bring together myriad skills and disciplines to advance the industries that give us the products that touch all of our lives.

Dr. Jack Solomon is retired from Praxair Inc. He is has served as chairman of Vision2020 for the Chemical Industry for the last five years. During that time Vision2020 has been aggressive in providing opportunities for partnerships between industry, universities and the national labs, he is the winner of the ACS Hank Whalen Award for 2005.

Sharon Robinson has 26 years experience working at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). She provides technical support to the chemical industry’s Vision2020 and coordinates Chemicals Plus, a program set up by the U. S. Department of Energy (DOE) to fund studies at the DOE National Laboratories which support Vision2020 goals.

The goal of Vision2020 is to help leverage the federal government’s R&D to foster collaborative partnerships with industry in technical areas critical to competitiveness, growth, and sustainability. Vision 2020 is an open process and would welcome additional participants and members. Volunteers interested in participating should contact www.ChemicalVision2020.org.

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