Commerce and Innovation – Our Future

Commerce and innovation is where we see chemistry put into action for the benefit of our citizens and society in general.

Sometimes it is difficult for non-chemists to appreciate this. In this short introduction we will tell you about some of the areas that relate to chemistry within the commercial environment.

Find an introduction (PowerPoint presentation) to this topic here.

Facts and Figures - A Hidden Industry?

Who are they? You probably know BASF as a multinational company - you probably do not know Laboratorio Oliver Rodes - which is a much smaller company. By the way, would you identify Fresenius SE as a chemical company?

What do the following figures tell you about the role of the chemical and related industries in Europe?

  • There are around 29,000 chemical and pharmaceutical companies within Europe, 90% of them being Small and Medium Enterprises (SME's)
  • They employ a total staff of about 1.84 million, which is 6% of the overall workforce in the manufacturing industry; almost 50 % are employed in SME's
  • Chemicals alone account for 1.26 million employees

This industry is large and important, probably more so than you might have thought. We called it hidden because most people do not identify companies producing cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, plastics, building materials, health care products and medical devices with chemistry - yet they all make products which rely on chemistry at some stage in their production or use.

You can find more facts and figures on the chemical industry, updated yearly, on the European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC) dedicated website.

Basic information relevant to your own country's chemical industry is available at - please look for the respective country and click the association's link.

Information on links of the chemical industry with schools in different countries is  listed here:

The Image of Chemistry - Does Chemistry Provide Problems or Solutions?

A CEFIC survey published in 2008 reveals what European citizens think about chemistry.  With this survey, Cefic measures public opinion and not the image of our industry as it appears in the media, which is often more negative and influences policy-makers a lot.

The main findings of the 2008 survey are as follows:

  • The overall public image of the Chemical Industry has remained unchanged since 2006
  • Huge country-by-country differences exist in attitudes to the Chemical Industry
  • This industry is now viewed more positively in relation to other benchmark industries than in 2006, but this is essentially due to a decrease in the popularity of the other industries
  • Age, sex and class make a difference in the public's perception of our industry
  • The public seems to have a ‘love-hate' relationship with the Chemical Industry
  • There is NOT a 'European public opinion' but a Europe of public opinions
  • The public are now significantly more aware of the Responsible Care brand than ten years ago but the extension of the programme to product stewardship and sustainability needs to be better explained
  • There are no concrete communication initiatives to decrease the public claim to place tougher controls on the chemical industry

You can read a paper on this survey on CEFIC website.

What are your own opinions? Here are two short films to help you formulate your own views:

Vivere senza chimica
A silent film commissioned by the Italian Chemical Industry Association (FEDERCHIMICA) that looks in a light-hearted way at a world without chemistry.
What if All Chemists Quit?
A cartoon film in simple French commissioned by Union des Industries Chimiques. It starts on the day when chemists were fed up with the maligned image of their profession.... For those who do not understand French, a commentary in your own language may be found here.

If you want to think more about this in depth, why not visit CITIES' "Chemistry Changes Everything" where the impact and benefits of chemistry are explored in more detail?

From Laboratory Discovery to the Factory - a Big Step

Chemical procedures, when carried out in your school laboratory, are often significantly different when they reach the manufacturing world.

When reactions are conducted on a large scale, there are many more things to think about than you might imagine:

  • A test tube that suddenly gets hot through a reaction can be cooled under a tap. What would happen if you had a ton of material in a large reaction vessel, which suddenly became hot? A chemist would say: the heat of reaction has to be controlled. How would you control it?
  • In school experiments we tend to use relatively "harmless" chemicals. Some useful industrial products cannot be made without using hazardous chemicals as intermediates - less of a problem on a small scale, but a fact to be taken into account on a large scale. Tons of material can be handled safely - through careful design of the production process.
  • For your school experiments, you may use some chemicals in very small quantities. These are easy to handle, as will be the products and by-products, i.e. the amount of waste is small. But imagine several tons of starting materials, products and waste - you will need a totally different infrastructure, from the delivery of raw materials to the factory, through to the products and waste products emerging at the other end. This is where sustainable chemistry has an important role to play. This modern approach is a challenging area for chemists and is helping us to minimise raw materials and energy consumption and end-products, which we do not use (waste products.)

Some of these ideas are explored with the help of learning material dealing with a simple case-study using copper as an example. (The CITIES team is preparing a learning module on copper. Along with it, there will be a simple case-study on the construction of a coin cleaning plant.)

New ideas are continually being explored and a recent example is the F3 factory, developed in the SusChem project, a versatile multi-variable model factory for the production of a wide variety of commercial products.

Seeing Industry in Action: Ideas on Site Visits

Chemistry has to start with basic knowledge - including the structure of matter, the reactions and equations describing them. This is what we can learn in school. But if we wish to sustain our interest in chemistry, sooner or later we must get out and see "chemistry in action".

This we can do by visiting chemical companies who are often willing to have young people look around their facilities, as these young people will provide the next generation of working industrial chemists. Companies hold open days and offer site and educational visits for schools.