Opening of the International Year of Chemistry in Germany

Chemistry enables a sustainable future and a “green lifestyle”

11-Feb-2011 - Germany

When opening the International Year of chemistry in Germany, leading delegates from science, industry and trade union highlighted major contributions from chemistry to a good quality of life. Clean water and air, safe foods and effective medicines: many global challenges to humankind cannot be solved without chemistry. Professor Dr Michael Dröscher, spokesman of the Forum Chemistry, emphasized at the start-up event in Berlin: “Today we need more than ever before the creative potential of chemistry. Findings, processes and products from the chemical industry are indispensable for a sustainable development of our world.” The year 2011 has been proclaimed the International Year of Chemistry by the United Nations. With this initiative, the UN wants to draw attention globally to the growing importance of chemistry in all fields of life.

According to Dröscher, the work of chemists in basic research and industrial laboratories decisively contributes to the development of new materials. In this area, the chemical industry accounts for almost two thirds of the total research spending in Germany. By way of example, Dröscher mentioned organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs) in smartphone displays, where more brilliant colours and lower energy consumption are the results of continuous further development of input chemicals.

Innovations and problem solutions

Second only to the automotive industry, chemistry is the most research-intensive industry in Germany. Some 2,000 chemical companies achieve sales of 30 billion euros annually with new developments from the past three years. This corresponds to more than one sixth of total chemical industry sales of well over 170 billion euros most recently. The research spending of the chemical industry was not reduced during the economic crisis and amounted to some 9.4 billion euros in 2010. Over 40,000 persons work in research laboratories of chemical companies, i.e. nearly 10 percent of chemical industry staff.

Dr Klaus Engel, president of the German Chemical Industry Association (VCI), stated: “Innovation in the German chemical industry relies on research. Therefore, research is also an essential prerequisite for realizing a green lifestyle. This applies in particular for the challenge of climate protection.” Solar cells or wind farms for electricity generation, high-performance batteries or fuel cells for electric mobility, insulating materials or heat accumulators for energy-saving housing – such innovations are enabled only by knowhow and products from the chemical industry, so Engel. However, the VCI’s president also made quite clear that Germany cannot secure its future solely as a research location. Engel: “Production needs to take place in Germany, too, in order to preserve jobs and create new ones. Chemistry is an excellent proof that sustainable production is possible in industry.”

IG BCE: Sustainability has three dimensions

Michael Vassiliadis, head of the Mining, Chemical and Energy Industrial Union (IG BCE), shares the view that progress and sustainability are key to a prosperous future of industry in Germany. In the pursuit of this goal, sustainability must not be seen purely as an economic dimension. Vassiliadis: “Responsibility and long-term orientation need to be taken into account, also for social and economic aspects.” Vassiliadis also spoke about acceptance problems in the implementation of large-scale projects of the energy sector and other industries in Germany. He believes that acceptance presupposes information and involvement as well as participation in the achievements of modern industry and infrastructure: “Reliable energy supplies at competitive prices are vital to the economic future of our country. CO2-emissions cannot be reduced without environmentally-friendly energy generation by wind power, photovoltaics and modern coal power stations, together with an efficient use of energy.”

Addressing the social partnership in the chemical industry, Vassiliadis pointed out that IG BCE makes all efforts within this partnership to maintain the conditions for good work so that workforce and companies can benefit together from the advantages, also against the backdrop of global competition: “Sustainable business success is the basis for good work. Obviously, good work – combined with qualification and advanced training – is conducive to innovation and competitiveness. Good work is shaped by a culture of participation and inclusion in decisions.”

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