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The Future of the Global Chemicals Industry, Driven by Specialty Needs and a Growing Middle Class, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

Several factors will combine over the long-term to reshape both the way the world uses chemicals, and the industry that manufacturers them.  To begin with, there is the booming growth of the middle class in such nations as Indonesia, Vietnam and India.  If you think of “middle class” as meaning a household that has a reasonable amount of discretionary income, it’s easy to see how this will drive chemicals manufacturing forward.  Rising incomes mean the purchase of more cars and motor scooters, more packaged food, more appliances such as air conditioners and better housing, all of which are highly reliant on components manufactured from chemicals and plastics.
Meanwhile, manufacturing and engineering firms are changing the way that chemicals are utilized.  This will drive the need for specialty chemicals, such as paints that are more environmentally friendly, and lighter-weight plastic components in cars.  (The auto industry is constantly striving to reduce car weight, and plastics are a prime way to do so.)  More items, such as aircraft, will be manufactured using strong, lightweight composite materials and plastics, in lieu of traditional metals.
Meanwhile, our ability to recycle plastics is growing.  Even thermoset plastics (strong materials used, for example, in automobiles) now show some promise in recycling.  Lighter plastics are increasingly recycled as well, as both consumers and corporations adopt greener attitudes.  This trend will continue to grow, and investment in this area will be immense over the long run.
Nanotechnology, a materials science based on the use of incredibly strong, lightweight carbon will find many great synergies with the chemicals industry.  This will include the use of nanomaterials in coatings.
Artificial intelligence and robotics will make chemicals factories smarter and more efficient but are not likely to reduce chemicals industry employment.  Chemicals factories are already highly automated, requiring massive amounts of investment per plant.  If anything, chemicals industry employment is likely to grow thanks rising global demand.  Nonetheless, productivity per employee will rise thanks to better technologies and higher levels of automation.
Another vital factor to consider is the availability of the basic feedstocks of much of the chemicals and plastics industry: oil and gas.  From this point of view, the future of the chemicals industry has never looked brighter.  Vast levels of new production are being delivered from shale oil and gas fields, keeping crude oil and natural gas availability high in the U.S.

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