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The West can still be the best

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By John Richardson on 06-Aug-2008

It is very easy assume that Asia ex-Japan will eventually catch up with the West and become as good at “solution” chemicals as the West. I am excluding Japan because it has long been a major speciality player.

All the money that China, for example, is pouring into its state-run research institutes would seem to suggest that eventually, the country will produce a BASF – or at least a collection of companies that come close to matching the German giant’s innovation.

But this report from Deutsche Bank – in a theme I will be touching on a lot over the next few weeks – points out that despite the great drift east, Europe has has held its own.World_chemicals_market_Asia_gaining_ground.pdf


I’ve created a new category “Analysts’ Reports” which you will hopefully find useful.

The Deutsche Bank report concludes that the West has a great opportunity – and has already made an excellent start – in the green chemistry race.

“In 2007, Europe accounted for 31% of global chemicals turnover; in 1997 the share was 32%.” write its authors.

Here’s another important statistic from the study: BASF’s turnover in 2007 was Euro60bn – the same as the entire Indian chemicals industry.

Knowledge retention, which I talked about yesterday, will be crucial for the West if it is to maintain this lead.

Constant innovation through a willingness to fail many times before succeeding might also be important. As Winston Churchill said: “Sucess is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”

It’s going to be fascinating to see how the new Dow and Rohm & Haas entity raises its game to meet the challenge of responding to the need for clever new products that must also be sustainable.

Finally, here are a couple of examples of Western innovation, the credibility of which I cannot vouch for.

Ford claims to have developed a way of sequestering VOCs from paints for conversion into fuel for fuel cells.

The clever Germans say they have found a way of producing self-healing nanotech anti-corrosion coatings as an alternative to the toxic chromium.

These serve to illustrate one of the other points I made yesterday – the need to navigate all the information out there to keep up-to-speed with a rapidly changing chemicals world.

I’m bewildered. I don’t know about you