Chemistry, Covid-19, Sustainability, Waste Management

Global Economic Crisis and Role of Chemical Sciences for Its Revival

Initial Set back: The chemical industry has had an enduring presence across the globe, providing inputs into manufacturing sectors that help uplifting the living standards worldwide, while also contributing to address a variety of global sustainability challenges. However, the outbreak of SARS Covid—19 pandemic has exposed oil, gas and chemical industries to two major challenges. One is oil price war and another one is contagious pandemic imposed lockdown in almost every country in the planet. The disagreement between Russia and OPEC+ to cut the oil production resulted in sharp decline in oil price during spring, 2020. The imbalance between demand and supply of crude oil on world economy is further aggravated due to travel restrictions and industrial slow down during lockdown. According to the order issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs, India on 24th March, chemicals were not categorized as ‘essential commodities’; by road transportation of chemicals were prohibited across the country. Leading chemical manufacturers are still cutting both capital and operational expenditure. Manufacturing expenditure has been cut down to 40%—60 % capacity due to workforce shortages and disruptions in the supply of raw materials. During the month of February, 2020, Asia-pacific region has witnessed a declination of chemical production by 3.9%, while it was by 2.4%, in the world. It seems that opportunities in chemical and oil sectors are squeezed. However scenario is not that colourless; in fact some chemical sectors are brighter than pre-covid period. After initial set back, chemical sectors has begun to be reinforced. Chemists are directly or indirectly contributing for the recovery of whole world from pandemic crisis which in turn will leave further impact for prolonged future (https://www.rsc.org/news-events/articles/2020/apr/chemistry-against-covid-19/).

Scope for teachers in chemistry: With the boom of online teaching-leaning trend, chemists became learning support for both students and hiring institutions. Using latest technologies, faculty members are working hard to attract students towards chemistry, make them inspired and innovative. Job opportunities have been squeezed due to economic recession as a result of lockdown; passing out students are facing severe challenges due to unemployment. One already opened opportunity for them is to pursue higher education. Deep knowledge and skills will reinforce their resume to find better job and also will play crucial role to overcome prolonged impact of health and economic crisis.

Scope for the researcher and technicians: During past 5 months chemistry has been established as essential cutting edge tool to battle against covid-19 virus. Chemistry based research and development sectors of all sizes are refocusing their interests and funding for further exploration about the virus, diagnostic tools and finally creating vaccines. Death of 12 persons in gas leakage of LG polymer plant in Vishakhapatnam on May 07, 2020 has pointed out the need of maintenance of different units in chemical plants and proper precautions during restart. Technicians with in depth knowledge of chemistry can further have job openings to run tests, maintenance of equipments and manage laboratory safety and supplies.

Green signals for chemical sectors: We use chemicals at each minutes of the day life e.g.; toothpaste, food, oil, medicine, plastics, fabrics, cosmetics, paints, gases, fertilizers, pesticides, ceramics and the list is never ending. Chemicals and oil products are essential raw materials required to produce safety equipments or medicines to survive against corona virus. Due to disruptions in the supply of Chinese chemicals, Indian companies witnessed inflows of orders from global players, which is credit positive for our country. The prices of many petrochemicals were reduced for Indian manufacturer improving their profit level. Another sector is Indian agrochemical industry, which is largely dependent on China for raw materials. With the ease of lock down, Chinese government is offering export rebates to pesticide manufacturer. There will be no shortage of raw materials for the agrochemical players in current kharif seasons, which enhanced production level to reach 70% of normal. We can expect the revival of Indian chemical sectors to some extent with the relaxation of norms of lockdown across the country. This is one crucial moment when global players are scrambling for alternative of Chinese supply, which was disrupted for short time being. As a result Indian players have huge potential to grab the market of Chinese players.

Sharp increase of production and packaging of sanitizers: Covid-19 pandemic has increased public consciousness to maintain hygiene in private and public spaces in India. Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the demand for disinfectants, antiseptics, food packaging and medicines. Oil and chemical industries also need to produce large amount raw materials required to prevent contamination of food, personal care and medical products. Start-ups like Aqoza technologies and PerSapien have developed chemical formulations for disinfecting public spaces. Airlens minus Corona from PerSapien dispenses water droplets to oxidize the viral protein. (https://www.financialexpress.com/opinion/beyond-indias-coronavirus-unlock-1-0-an-age-of-innovation/1982951/). The spread of COVID-2 has triggered a sharp rise in the demand of isopropyl alcohol, which is a key ingredient. Chemical sector has decided to produce isopropyl level to maximum plant capacity. Sugar mills in northern India have started supplying ethanol/ethyl alcohol/extra neutral alcohol (ENA) to the companies producing hand sanitiser across the country. Meanwhile, many sugar mills have applied for license from the Central Drug Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) to produce hand sanitizers, but not the license for packaging. Simultaneously, there has been opening for the plastic industries to provide raw materials to different players packaging sanitizers for the markets.

New avenues in/for pharmaceutical chemistry: Immediately after the outbreak of covid-19, pharmaceuticals companies jumped in the race to invent vaccines and medicines. Country’s oldest pharmaceuticals company, Bengal Chemicals & Pharmaceuticals Ltd, was suddenly under spot light due to sudden worldwide demand for hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), which is the most sought-after drug in the treatment of Covid-19. Demands of different immunity boosting medicines shoot across the country. Indian pharmaceutical giant Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories (Dr Reddy’s) in collaboration with global companies are going to manufacture flavivir, a potential drug against covid-19. Biotechnology major Biocon is going to launch biologic drug Itolizumab for the treatment of moderate to severe covid-19 patients. Hence, chemists are on high demand in pharmaceutical companies. Chemists play important role in pharmaceutical sectors; hike of medicinal demands creats jobs for chemists.

Raised demand of waste water treatment: As per recommendation of WHO, hygiene is extremely important issue to prevent the spread of virus. Frequent washing of hands with frothing soaps is most efficient and effective way to avoid the transmission of the virus. However, the access of large amount of fresh and safe water is one biggest challenge to India, especially rural India where facility of medical sanitizers may not be available. The threat of covid 19 virus has reinstated the demand of waste water management. One purifies water using chemicals. Widely used components include to purify water is chlorine, ultraviolet ray, ozonisation, ion exchangers, which can be employed by chemists. In this sectors chemists will be on high demand to test water, and to construct water purification systems.

In the period of turbulence, chemical society is ready to face the new structural transformations in micro economy, technology, regulations, and consumer preferences in both developed and emerging markets.

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