Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Make in India's sustainable chemistry

The chemical industry offers innovations and technological improvements that aid the growth of almost every industry

Published: Feb 15, 2016 02:30:46 PM IST
Updated: Feb 15, 2016 02:52:56 PM IST
Make in India's sustainable chemistry

By Raman Ramachandran

The Make In India programme has energised the Indian business community. With initiatives like Digital India, it has the potential to create much-needed job opportunities through the development of skilled labour, thus leveraging our demographic dividend and improving the standard of living across the country.

In fact, with the right policy and support, it is not far-fetched to think that India can become a global manufacturing hub.

Growing demand is putting an increasing strain on our planet. We already consume more than the Earth can regenerate. In 2015, August 13, was recognised as the Earth’s Overshoot Day: By that date, mankind had consumed the budget of natural resources for the entire year. By the year 2050, there will be more than nine billion people living in this world. If we continue to manufacture, consume and live the way we live today, we will need resources two-and-a-half times greater than what the world has to offer. A growing need for energy, food and clean water, limited resources and a booming world population – reconciling all these factors is the greatest challenge of our time.

The inspiring vision of Make In India should, therefore, also be a call for the business community to remember our responsibility towards future society and the environment.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has proven that he is very well aware of this challenge when he linked Make In India to the “Zero Effect, Zero Defect” principle. What may be surprising is the crucial role that chemistry will play in helping Make In India become not only a reality, but a sustainability reality. The chemical industry offers innovations and technological improvements that aid the growth of almost every industry today, in a profitable and sustainable manner.

Take the automotive industry, for example, which generates 45 percent of our manufacturing GDP and is thus a key contributor to Make In India. Vehicle manufacturers are enjoying healthy growth but are at the same time facing the challenge of meeting the strict Bharat VI emission norms by 2020. Chemistry can help in various ways: Advanced emissions control catalysts technologies for cars, trucks and motorcycles are available in India and throughout South Asia and are made in India. Chemistry also provides modern high performance polymers to replace metal and help significantly save weight of vehicles – thus reducing fuel consumption and emissions. To help refineries provide the required fuel qualities for Bharat VI, chemistry provides process catalysts for refineries as well as fuel additives that help engines become cleaner and more fuel efficient.

Chemistry also supports the more sustainable manufacture and use of many other products, from concrete with a lower CO2 footprint, to paints supporting good indoor air quality, to leather that requires less water, energy and time in the production process, to more affordable, high quality personal care products.

Then why is India still so highly dependent on imported chemicals? Net chemical imports grew at about 20 percent CAGR during 2009-2013. I see this as an indicator that there is still a need to further improve the conditions for the chemical industry in India. This includes both “hard” infrastructure such as roads, railways and ports, the availability of energy and feedstock for specialty chemicals, as well as “soft” infrastructure such as simplified administrative processes and clear legal regulations. The National Chemical Policy, which is awaiting its final nod from the government of India, aims to address many of these issues.

Make In India is poised to thrive – provided we keep sustainability at the centre of everything we do. 

- Raman Ramachandran is the chairman & managing director of BASF India Ltd. The views expressed are his own.