MIT: Chemicals Digitalisation key to Decarbonising

  • July 10, 2023
  • William Payne

MIT has released a report tying accelerated digitalisation in the chemicals industry to achieving a significant reduction in global carbon and emission levels.

The chemicals industry is the most energy-hungry of all in terms of CO2 emissions. If growth continues at current rates without decarbonisation solutions, the sector’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is set to double within 30 years.

Due to its reach into many industries, the chemical manufacturing sector is a lynchpin for sustainability.

AI, digital twins, robotics, and lab automation are accelerating research productivity, improving operational efficiency, and enhancing safety.  Chemical companies increasingly see digital transformation as a way to improve safety, optimise production, and advance R&D.

AI is booming in analytical chemistry and biochemistry. AI, machine learning and digitisation of research are enabling high-throughput research, allowing scientists to build on past efforts efficiently, identify promising ideas, and forecast product performance. Robotics and automation reduce human error and minimise the need for human contact with hazards, and industrial IoT allows visibility into everything from chemical transport to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) reporting.

Transforming to scale requires strategic oversight and coordination, a talent and capabilities plan, a focus on data standards and interoperability—and leadership. As chemical companies digitalise, some struggle to transition from pilot projects to companywide transformation. As digitalisation increases the surface area for cyberattacks, security protocols must grow alongside. Companies that succeed often have a team dedicated to innovation and R&D, with organisational and strategic factors carefully mapped out. Without precise planning, digitisation can result in inefficiency and confusion. High-level leadership is required to steer the effort and manage momentum.

Produced in partnership with Revvity Signals Software, the MIT Technology Review Insights report “Creative Chemistry: Adapting to the 21st Century,” draws on interviews with professors, and executives from organisations including AkzoNobel, Accenture, and ChemSec. 

“With governments worldwide intensifying regulations to promote greener industry practices, the focus on sustainability has become paramount,” said Laurel Ruma, global director of custom content for MIT Technology Review. “The chemicals industry, acting as a lynchpin across various sectors, must shoulder the responsibility to drive sustainable practices. This will necessitate forging partnerships, establishing data standards, and working collectively towards a net-zero chemicals industry.”

“Informatics software has emerged as a game-changer for specialty chemical companies, driving product innovation and sustainability,” said Jun Liu, head of marketing, industrial chemistry, Revvity Signals Software. “Data management software enables companies to optimise formulations, accelerate research and development, and enhance product performance by leveraging vast amounts of data and advanced analytics. It empowers researchers to make data-driven decisions, creating safer, greener, and more sustainable products. Informatics software is revolutionising the chemical industry, paving the way for a future with enhanced efficiency and environmental responsibility.”