Rajmitra B. D. Amin Memorial Lecture
Posted On : 9th December 2014

Dr. K. V. Raghavan, Chairman – RAC, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Ministry of Defence, Government of India, delivered the Rajamitra B. D. Amin Memorial Lecture on 26 September 2008.. The theme of his lecture was "Indian Chemical Industry – Globalization and Sustainability Issues".

The Indian chemical industry must evolve a comprehensive life-cycle management strategy if it is to
ensure a sustainable future for itself, Dr. Raghavan said.

He stressed the need for industry to reassess material and energy efficiency of its products and services; recognize parallels between environmental and economic impacts; identify tradeoffs between manufacture, use and end-of-life requirements; and integrate sustainable practices into its core operations. Environmental issues do not occur in isolation and must be considered in decision making at all levels.

'LIFECYCLE COSTING' CONCEPT

He stressed the need for industry to take into account the 'lifecycle costing' concept, to assess the environmental impact of its products. This evolving methodology involves factoring in the cost of R&D, production, use and end-oflife cost while calculating the cost of a chemical product. "It covers all costs associated with system for a defined life cycle including material & energy flows, labour costs, knowledge costs, transaction costs and marketing expenses," Dr. Raghavan observed.

Dr. Raghavan urged industry to focus on the three pillars of environmental, economic and social sustainability, in order to ensure a future for it. Environmental sustainability, in his view, will involve reducing the ecological footprint of the industry through innovations for clean processing; design and manufacture of 'green' products; and minimising greenhouse gas and ozone effects. Economic sustainability, on the other hand, will involve optimal utilisation of resources, and social sustainability can only be ensured by raising living standards through a combination of pro-active labour policies, pragmatic public-private initiatives and risk communication. "All of them require industry to take the path
of innovation and market competitiveness," he pointed out.

REDUCING THE CARBON FOOTPRINT

Highlighting some approaches to reduce the carbon footprint of the industry, Dr. Raghavan noted that waste sludge transport and drying have significant impact on the carbon footprint of process treatment technologies. "It is advisable to minimize these impacts by reducing transport distance and minimizing water content through flocculation," he added.

Yet another approach – although of limited nature – was to use carbon dioxide as a chemical building block to manufacture agrichemicals such as urea and phosgene; to make polymers such as polycarbonate and polyureas; or to produce industrial chemicals such as oxalic acid (by electrolytic reduction and coupling of two carbon dioxide molecules) and carbon monoxide (by electrolytic reduction). Although it is technically feasible to use CO2 as feedstock, the process is energy intensive and highly expensive. "Carbon dioxide can be coaxed to participate in chemical reactions such as reduction, addition and condensation," he added. "Polymer synthesis is one of best options to produce new CO2 based structurals in the 21st century, but R&D has to be intensified in India in this field."

According to Dr. Raghavan, India has also to intensify efforts for use of natural gas as energy and chemical feedstock, especially as gas provides the largest heat of combustion per unit of CO2 produced; the ease of sulphur removal; and the fact that it is the cheapest source of hydrogen. "Major gas processing complexes are in the offing, which use methane as feedstock to produce basic building blocks, feedstock, solvents and bulk. Intermediates, specialities and performance chemicals will be produced in satellite units."

BOOSTING EXPORTS FROM INDIA

In order to boost chemical exports from India, Dr. Raghavan suggested a twin-pronged strategy that included a renewed focus on eco-friendly products and high-end specialities.
Stressing the role of product and process innovation in the chemical industry, he referred to a McKinsey study that showed that globally 60% of companies failed to generate positive returns on R&D, while 20% earned marginal positive returns and a mere 20% achieved substantial returns.

Highlighting the importance of managing innovation correctly in an organisation so as to reap its reward, he stressed the need to be competitive by effectively integrating creative abilities with organisation processes and marketing plans. In his view, management must focus on new knowledge creation; incremental ideas for better products / processes; quick conversion into working prototypes; and new models for manufacture and distribution. "Incremental technological breakthroughs may be adequate to start with; but they need to coalesce for bigger gains," he pointed out.


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