We live in an era of chemical fear: the media and the public see chemicals as enemies of the environment. But this view is flawed because it ignores the important role of chemicals – especially special chemical products – as a promoter of sustainable development.
Specialty chemical products and polymers are produced in a responsible manner – just as most chemicals do – support key sustainable development goals, including clean water, clean energy and the protection of underwater life. They enable society to meet current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Clean water is the foundation of a healthy society. But clean water doesn’t come out of the air. All water – even from the original mountain reservoirs – needs to be treated before it is suitable for human consumption or industrial use. Water also needs to be treated after use in order to safely return to the environment. Special chemicals – especially special polymers – play an important role in a series of water treatment processes (see Figure 1). These processes include drinking water production, wastewater treatment and industrial water treatment. Special polymers:
Reduce turbidity and accelerate the sedimentation of suspended particles in drinking water production
Sludge concentration and dehydration in wastewater treatment
To inhibit the formation of scale (deposit) in boiler and cooling tower
The global consumption of special polymers for water treatment exceeds 1 million metric tons per year. Polyacrylamide is the most water-soluble polymer in water treatment, and plays an important role in drinking water production and wastewater treatment. Polyacrylate is the second largest polymer, which can prevent scaling in industrial equipment. Quaternary ammonium polymer and polyamine are mainly used for drinking water production.
Wind energy is crucial to the global energy market today, and its importance as a clean and renewable energy is growing continuously. In 2010, wind power accounted for less than 4 per cent of global power generation. In 2018, wind power accounted for more than 8%.
Turbines that convert wind power into clean power depend on special materials. Each wind turbine contains 25 to 100 metric tons of special resin and reinforcement. Unsaturated polyester, epoxy, glass and carbon are standard building materials for wind turbine blades.
In the field of wind power, scale is crucial. Turbine height, blade length and power output are all increasing, so the number of resins and reinforcements required to manufacture wind turbines is also increasing. In commercial production, the largest turbine blade is over 88 meters long (about the length of a football field), requiring more than 100 tons of resin and reinforcement.
Economic factors have driven this trend. Larger wind turbines are more efficient and therefore cost less to generate electricity. Compared with traditional energy sources such as coal and natural gas, modern wind farms equipped with large turbines are cost competitive.
Protect underwater life
Nutrient pollution is the enemy of underwater organisms. Excess nutrients, usually nitrogen or phosphorus, can cause algae to multiply in lakes, rivers and coastal waters. Excessive algae growth can cause dead areas – which consume oxygen from underwater plants and block the sunlight of underwater plants – making underwater life impossible to survive. Some algae also produce toxins that are harmful to the human body.
There are many sources of excess nutrients, including detergents. Traditionally, laundry agents include phosphate “builders” to improve performance, especially in hard water. Phosphate constructs are cheap and effective, but they can also be used as nutrients. In contrast, special chemical builders – zeolite, citric acid and polyacrylic acid – improve the properties of the detergent without causing algae growth. These special chemical products do what construction workers should do – soften water (by isolating calcium and magnesium ions), disperse dirt and prevent soil from re deposition – without nourishing algae.
The consumption of zeolite, citric acid and polyacrylate in the global laundry agent is about 2 MMT per year. The developing market is driving the demand growth of these professional builders. By contrast, demand for professional builders in mature markets such as North America, Western Europe and Japan is expected to be flat, in part because these regions are moving towards new green formulations. More and more mature markets are turning to liquid and unit doses of laundry, not powder. The new form depends on greener builders such as sodium gluconate and sodium glutamate, N, n-diacetacetic acid (glda). These chelators are biodegradable and biologically based, and their raw materials are glucose and glutamate.