The worldwide population is growing – and so are the challenges facing our society. How can the chemical industry help tackle these challenges? That was the overriding theme of "The future of chemicals – Perspectives on tomorrow's world", an event held at Industriepark Höchst on September 30. In several 90-minute blocks, interdisciplinary panels of experts discussed three core issues facing the world: "Diagnostics, drugs and therapies", "Sustainability and product development" and "Energy generation, conversion and storage". The event was hosted by the German Chemical Society (GDCh) and Infraserv Höchst.
No other industry can do as much as the chemical industry to tackle society's challenges, according to Margret Suckale, Member of the BASF Board of Executive Directors and President of the National Employer's Association for the Chemical Industry. Chemical companies can engineer solutions for greater efficiency and resource conservation, but only if they enjoy the public's trust. That is why, as Thisbe Lindhorst, President of GDCh, added, it is important for the chemical industry not just to teach and inform, but also to engage honestly with communities and understand and openly discuss their concerns. This issue is near and dear to Lindhorst's heart, being a chemistry professor, which is why she has made values in the chemical industry a major theme of her presidency.
Health care and pharmaceutical research of the future
Medical advances open up entirely new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat disease. However, doesn't most medication available today only treat disease, not cure it? Will medical research have made further advances by 2030? The first panel, entitled "Diagnostics, drugs and therapies", featured a discussion between Prof. Christiane Woopen, Executive Director of CERES and Director of the Research Unit Ethics at the University of Cologne, Prof. Theodor Dingermann, Senior Professor at the Institute for Pharmaceutical Biology at the Goethe University Frankfurt, and Prof. Jochen Maas, General Manager of Research and Development at Sanofi-Aventis Germany. Maas said that he expected to see significantly more biopharmaceuticals in the market by 2030. They will be effective, too – for example, they will enable better treatment of cancer. However, some diseases don't lend themselves to biopharmaceutical treatment since these new drugs can't cross the blood-brain barrier or other physiological boundaries.
Ethical challenges in pharmaceutical research
What is ethically acceptable in health care and pharmaceutical research? And could these ethical boundaries change in the future? The experts discussed these issues, too. Woopen highlighted the need for international standards – not just in pharmaceutical research, but also in access to health care. She expects to see progress on this front by 2030, but not any enforceable global standards.
Sustainable product development
The world's resources are growing scarcer. Recycling is a good start, but it can't solve this issue on its own. So how do you put product development and consumption on a sustainable footing? Should companies stop developing products if they learn that they won't be sustainable? These tough questions were tackled by the event's second panel, on "Sustainability and product development", with panelists Dr. Steffi Ober, Advisor for Sustainable Research Policy at NABU Berlin, Prof. Klaus Kümmerer, Chair for Sustainable Chemistry and Material Resources at Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Prof. Armin Reller, Chair of Resource Strategy at the University of Augsburg, and Dr. Martin Vollmer, Chief Technology Officer of Clariant. Kümmerer was convinced that the "business as usual" approach would fail. Instead, he advocated for a sustainable chemical industry that revolved around product functionality and started considering a product's end-of-life impact as early as during development. Vollmer, for his part, highlighted the importance of continuously improving production and manufacturing processes. Digitization could help in developing sustainable production processes.
The challenge: transitioning to green energy
Germany's energy transition policy calls for renewable energy to replace fossil fuels in the future. How do we go about reaching this goal? And, more importantly, how quickly can it be reached? These were the questions put to the third panel, on "Energy generation, conversion and storage", with panelists Dr. Barbara Praetorius, Deputy Director of the Agora Energiewende initiative, Prof. Ferdi Schüth, Director at the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung at Mühlheim an der Ruhr, and Dr. Frank-Detlev Drake, Head of Corporate Research and Development at RWE. Praetorius stated that the upcoming legislative period would definitely set the tone for 2030. She expected that only 50 to 60 percent of electricity generation would be generated by renewables by 2030, postponing Germany's exit from fossil fuels until 2050. All three panelists agreed that Germany could only transition to renewable energy if electricity generation was decentralized. Schüth also believed that the energy system would become more heterogeneous; there would have to be a mix of different technologies.
Jürgen Vormann, Chief Executive Officer of Infraserv Höchst, gave an apt summary of the chemical industry's future role: "The chemical industry will be essential to tackling the future challenges facing humankind – from climate change to feeding the world's growing population." Joachim Kreysing, COO of Infraserv Höchst, added: "We must look closely and critically at what we're doing and have the courage to change if we realize that we're on the wrong track." It was obvious from all the event's panels that both the chemical industry and the research community are willing to take that step.
Headquartered in Frankfurt, Germany, Infraserv Höchst operates advanced infrastructure for companies in the chemical, pharmaceutical and related process industries. Infraserv Höchst leverages its experience and capabilities in site operation, management and consulting to deliver site excellence for its customers. The company, which operates sites such as Industriepark Höchst, offers services in utilities, waste management, logistics and site services.
The wholly owned subsidiaries in the Infraserv Höchst Group include Infraserv Logistics and Provadis Partner für Bildung und Beratung.
Infraserv GmbH & Co. Höchst KG has 1,800 employees and 132 trainees on its payroll. The Infraserv Höchst Group has around 2,500 employees and 162 vocational trainees. In 2015, Infraserv Höchst and its subsidiaries generated approx. EUR 1.2 billion in revenues.
Industriepark Höchst is home to around 90 companies in pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, basic and specialty chemicals, crop protection, food additives and services. Some 22,000 people come to work at Industriepark Höchst. The site covers 460 hectares (1,137 acres); 50 hectares (123 acres) are still available for use. The companies at the park invested approx. EUR 352 million in the site in 2015. Total investment since 2000 amounts to roughly EUR 6.65 billion.
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