Partnership fuels chemicals future 

Scottish Development International

Copyright: Rex Features

Chemical Sciences Scotland is a powerful partnership between the industry, government and academia which speaks with one voice to secure the sector’s future

By Will Beacham, London

Scotland’s chemical sector is a powerful engine for the country’s economy, with a turnover of £8.7bn ($13.9bn; €11.0bn), accounting for 28% of manufacturing output by turnover. The sector’s exports are worth £4.5bn and it directly employs 13,500 people.

It provides essential feedstocks and building block materials for many other downstream manufacturers across the region. Chemical jobs tend to be of high quality, with salaries averaging £35,400/year, and the gross value added (GVA) of the industry is £100,000.

However, the sector faces challenges – both regional and global. Many of the chemical companies operating in Scotland are part of global corporations headquartered elsewhere. Decisions made by these groups may reflect a global strategy, rather than what is best for local sites.

The commodity petrochemical sector relies heavily on the Grangemouth complex for feedstocks which are currently obtained from the declining North Sea oil and gas reserves, though that is about to change. The industry operates in a global environment in which the US shale gas boom is pushing European producers further up the petrochemical cost curve.

Recognising the importance of the sector to Scotland’s future prosperity, in 2007 a group of people and organisations with an interest in rejuvenating and growing the chemicals industry formed a voluntary partnership known as Chemical Sciences Scotland (CSS). The group – with interested parties from the industry, government and academia – aims to nurture manufacturing, research and investment across the sector including industrial biotechnology. The Scottish government recognises CSS as the voice of the industry in Scotland.

Caroline Strain, head of chemical sciences at development agency Scottish Enterprise, says: “Previously there was no cohesive group for chemical sciences. CSS has brought it all together, facilitated discussion and developed a strategic plan for growth.”

CSS developed and launched its strategy for growth in 2007 and updated it in 2012, setting an ambition to increase chemicals manufacturing exports from the sector by 50% by 2020.

To achieve its overall goals, the strategy set three major priorities:

  • Increase export growth
  • Develop solutions for a low carbon economy
  • Boost collaboration between academia and manufacturing.



Support for Chemicals

Organisations that help the chemicals sector in Scotland

CSS – the main forum, or Industry Leadership Group, for the promotion of Scotland’s chemical industry – voluntary and unfunded

Scottish Enterprise – main Scottish Development Agency – government funded

Scottish Development International – body promoting Scotland to international markets

Skills Development Scotland - state-funded national skills body enacting government policy

Scottish Funding Council – funding body for academia/innovation

Highlands and Islands Enterprise – state-funded development agency for the Highlands and Islands.

To address these objectives, four task-specific groups were formed, each to tackle one of four key topics: sustainability, innovation, skills and reputation, and investment. CSS has always been about creating a chemical sciences community so that people in the industry, academia, regulation and skills talk to each other and see the opportunities arising. There is a genuinely collegiate approach in Scotland. Another one of its key objectives and achievements has been to raise the profile of the chemicals industry in Scotland.

“CSS has brought it all together, facilitated discussion and developed a strategic plan for growth” 

Caroline Strain
Head of chemical sciences, Scottish Enterprise

Competitive Advantage

With the INEOS refinery and petrochemicals complex at Grangemouth and ExxonMobil Chemical’s plant at Mossmorran, Scotland is in the unique position of having two of only four crackers in Europe flexible enough to crack a high proportion of ethane.

The decision by INEOS – with government support – to construct an import terminal for US ethane at the site will allow it to grab some of the US shale gas advantage by using competitively priced feedstocks (see page 4).

Having that asset in place should also help to secure the future of downstream businesses which take feedstocks from the cracker. “It behoves us to maximise that strategically and build out, so not just chemicals but downstream operations benefit too. If we do the right thing this will be a game-changing op-portunity for Scotland and the UK,” he says. Industrial biotechnology (IB) has huge potential in Scotland. Not only does it offer sustainability benefits such as cutting greenhouse gas emissions and energy use, but the country is ideally placed for marine feedstocks such as seaweed and algae as well as whisky distillery by-products and agricultural/forestry waste materials.

The country already has a nascent IB sector, with 43 companies generating revenues of £189m and employing 1,100 people. In November 2013, CSS launched a Scottish National Plan for Industrial Biotechnology which aims to grow IB turnover to £900m by 2025 (see page 9).

Key elements include industry engagement, development of biorefineries and a national innovation centre, and nurturing of skills. A variety of R&D grants are available to help with 35-70% of start-up costs up to £600,000, as well as tax breaks and support with the development of collaborative teams. Financing for projects is also available up to £2m through organisations such as the Scottish Investment Bank.

According to Sarah Petrie, programme manager IB for Scottish Enterprise: “We’ve got very strong research capabilities within the universities. And the strength of our chemicals industry in a variety of products such as plastics and polymers gives a foothold into markets which we can exploit for industrial biotechnology.”

Biorefineries are a major thrust of the plan and there is an objective to have one large or some smaller units operational by 2025. She says a roadmap is currently being developed which aims to identify feedstocks available locally or importable economically.

“We need to consider our capacity, areas of expertise and markets where we can compete. That plan then needs to be openly consulted on so that we can refine the roadmap and have something to make more public ... towards the end of the year.”

Another part of the plan is the establishment of a network of biotechnology innovation centres. An Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre was established in January 2014 which aims to support development of new products and manufacturing processes, provide skills needed by the industry and act as a centre of knowledge exchange to share best practice (see page 9).


Disruptive Technology

Supporting process innovation in the chemicals sector, the National Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Continuous Manufacturing and Crystallisation (CMAC) has been formed as part of the Technology and Innovation Centre at the University of Strathclyde. It aims to accelerate the adoption of continuous manufacturing which is far more efficient than batch.

According to Scottish Enterprise’s Strain: “We’re keen to support this as disruptive technologies mean real improvements in manufacturing techniques. The challenge now is to ensure that we’ve got businesses in Scotland engaging in CMAC and to build up the supply chain to help the economic impact on Scottish businesses. We see this and the biotechnology plan really taking us some way down the path to sustainable manufacturing.”


Strategic plan for Scottish Chemicals

CSS activities focus on four key areas


R&D – targeting industrial bio- technology, biofuels, material and formulations

Innovation – boost through academic/industry collaboration, increase international participation

Skills and reputation

Employee skills – collaboration with training groups, further and higher education facilities

Career choice – ensuring chemicals is an attractive career choice

Public perception – build political/business/media links at EU, Scottish and local levels


Environment – develop low carbon technology, reduce greenhouse gas emissions Competitiveness – improve efficiency, promote manufacturing process innovation and sharing of utilities and services

Regulation – promote cooperation between industry and regulators

Promoting growth – Scotland as a location of choice for low- carbon manufacturing


Help drive Scottish Development International’s export goals

Develop intervention resources to expand higher value-added businesses

Aid new investment by chemicals companies

Develop green technology and industrial biotechnology Identify infrastructure improvements for site integration.


Scotland has a thriving chemical sciences cluster recognised as one of the most accessible, well connected and collaborative in Europe. We are home to some of the world’s leading chemicals companies, and have a growing number of supply chain opportunities for international companies. To find out more, please visit

Local Support

Chemical Sciences Scotland help chemicals companies to explore new and innovative products and processes, as well as make current ones more efficient. We offer services to support your chemical sciences business. Whether you want to get support for your next R&D project or to streamline your manufacturing processes; develop your leadership team or adopt an innovative business model: we can help.

Scottish Enterprise Atrium Court
50 Waterloo Street Glasgow
G2 6HQ

Tel: 0845 607 8787/+44 141 228 2000

Scottish Development International (SDI) is a joint venture with partnerships that include the Scottish Government, Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Island Enterprise, Business Gateway Scotland and TalentScotland. If your company is considering Scotland, we can provide a full support service, whether it’s to invest, relocate, partner, trade or expand here. From finance to premises, specialist advice to market information, there’s not much we don’t offer. All delivered via our 41 offices in 19 countries across the globe. So chances are there’s a Scottish expert you can speak to close by.

Scottish Development International 5 Atlantic Quay
150 Broomielaw
G2 8LU

Tel: 0800 917 9534/+44 141 228 2828