Global sales of chemicals more than doubled over the last decade, hitting a record $5.2tr by 2013. Emerging economies drove a large share of these gains, most notably in China, where chemicals sales expanded at an average compound annual rate of 26 percent over that period. Growth in basic chemicals, which make up nearly two-thirds of the industry, also benefited from the general uplift in oil and gas prices.
But at the same time, the chemicals industry is going through a tremendous period of change that will help define opportunities and challenges in both the short and the long term. Among these disruptions: The nature and role of chemicals innovation has continued to move away from the blockbuster breakthroughs that characterized the late 20th Century, and toward more incremental advances targeted at new solutions for particular problems. We’ve seen the increased commercialization of alternative manufacturing technologies, such as converting coal to liquids and gas to liquids. Manufacturing footprints have changed to take advantage of new shale gas supplies. And, finally, new customers are emerging in a wider variety of regions and markets.
To succeed in this shifting landscape, chemicals companies need to focus their strategic thinking on three areas: (1) adapting and refining their business models and manufacturing footprints; (2) identifying growth opportunities in emerging markets — which, especially for Western companies, will require a new mind-set; and (3) harnessing the potential of digital technologies to capitalize on the next wave of value creation.
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