PetroChem Summit 2024: Fast-tracking innovation and R&D in Indian petrochemicals industry

PetroChem Summit 2024: Fast-tracking innovation and R&D in Indian petrochemicals industry

Industry-academia partnerships can facilitate knowledge exchange, resource sharing, and technology transfer, enabling companies to leverage collective expertise

  • By Rahul Koul | February 29, 2024

Investing in R&D holds the key to unlocking new opportunities and driving sustainable growth in the petrochemicals sector. By fostering a culture of innovation, companies can explore alternative feedstock options, develop novel production techniques, and create high-value products with improved performance characteristics.

In this context, the leading experts discussed the way forward at the third session, ‘Accelerating Innovation and R&D in Indian Petrochemicals Industry’ of PetroChem Summit 2024 organized by the Indian Chemical News on February 23, 2024 in New Delhi.

The session was moderated by Puneet Kumar, Director, EY-Parthenon.

While setting the tone of the discussion, Kumar outlined the importance of R&D in the petrochemical context, “While we have seen large scale investments into petrochemicals and specialty chemicals, the investment into the R&D is just 0.3% to 04% of the net revenue which is three to four times lower as compared to the global average, With the global landscape evolving rapidly, driven by technological advancements and sustainability, only R&D can help the Indian petrochemicals sector  to stay competitive and meet future requirements. The Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers has taken many initiatives such as PCPIRs, plastic parks among others but the acceleration of efforts is most required now.”

“The R&D investment must be increased to 2%-3% otherwise we will lose the opportunities. Also, when it comes to the focus of research, the priority should be applied research rather than the fundamental research, said Dr P. S. G. Krishnan, Principal Director (TSS & BD), CIPET.

“Industry must look at the domestic needs of the country. We import a lot of chemicals and the government of India has identified about 500 chemicals that need to be manufactured indigenously so that we can save substantial foreign reserves and become self-reliant. The national policy on petrochemicals was formulated in 2007 wherein it was decided to set up PCPIRs. Three PCPIRs are currently in the working condition. They also decided to establish centres of excellence (CoEs) and subsequently 13 centres of excellence have been formed. CIPET has 3 CoEs focused on green transportation, sustainable materials and 3D printing related to bio-medical materials. CIPET has three R&D centres with world-class facilitiess in Bhubaneswar Chennai and Bengaluru,” added Dr Krishnan.

 “To maintain a competitive edge we need innovation and robust R&D. Academia and industry must work closely to fulfill the existing gaps but combining their expertise in theoretical and practical knowledge. We have a large number of institutes in India but most of the talent is underutilized as we are not developing go to the market products. The gaps are because of restrictions to knowledge transfer, access to cutting edge research, technology transfers. The industry-academia collaboration can lead to better breakthroughs in R&D, process optimization. The practical approach of industry to the real life issues helps the academia to develop the technologies that are customer oriented and solves their problems. Talent development is also important and we at Indian Oil have been training the engineers to gain the knowledge about the industry and most of them have been absorbed by the industry in India and abroad,” said Dr. Gurmeet Singh, Deputy General Manager (Petrochemical & Polymer), Indian Oil Corporation Limited.

“In terms of technology transfer, it could be a win-win situation for both academics and industry. Academics can gain from industry specific programmes while we get quicker access to innovative technological know-how. The academics are at the initial phase of cutting edge technology development and we in industry look at the same from the basic research perspective, adding value to make it industry oriented. Joint R&D centres, knowledge exchange forums and technology transfer are the way forward,” added Dr Singh.

“For formulating the better guidelines, there is a need to minimize the gaps between industry, academia and government policies. There is a huge difference between how industry and academia run their projects. At an academic level, we have constraints in terms of having pilot level facilities to validate the new products and processes. The government norms too need to be eased out. The human resources too are a challenge as proper encouragement must be given to students to take up chemistry as a subject. Compared to the basic lab research done by IITs, the CSIR labs are working on the end-to-end solutions, starting from raw materials, selection of route, optimizing, scaling up the process and supporting industry up to commercialization,” Dr. Sanjay P. Kamble, Senior Principal Scientist, CSIR - National Chemical Laboratory.

“In terms of funding, few petrochemical industries are providing support for commercial development of products. It is a good opportunity to collaborate and develop many chemicals that are imported yet could be made in India due to availability of raw materials. The government has identified 500 such chemicals and at least 51 are highly important,” added Dr. Kamble.

“The petrochemicals sector is a fast changing one. The drivers for innovation are government policies, both national and international; and societal behaviour. What we are seeing is the movement towards low carbon energy sources, renewable energy options such as biodiesel, sustainability fuels or low carbon energy, hydrogen, CO2 conversion etc. The societal change is also driving more sustainable options. We are moving from crude to chemical. The R&D can play a critical role in making available better technologies to develop chemicals and provide sustainable options such as biodiesel and ethanol. As a CSIR Lab, we have deep expertise in the area and also the experience of working with the industry. Almost all Indian refineries have at least one technology/product/process provided by CSIR-IIP, said  Dr. Tuhin Suvra Khan, Scientist, CSIR - Indian Institute of Petroleum.

“The availability of skilled human resources and raw materials are also important in this fast moving sector. We have to check the demand in the market and act accordingly to make money. In five years down the line we will see a different petrochemical industry. It will be a low carbon refinery, coupled with bio-refinery. So we have to have a diverse knowledge pool, not just chemical engineering but also biochemical engineering, data science expertise,” added Khan.

“Despite having a large number of research institutes in India, we continue to import a large number of chemicals from various countries. The question is why are we unable to manufacture them here. The answer lies in the fact that we don’t have a proper shared platform to jointly identify the problem and bring in solutions. Many of the institutions are just publishing the papers without the practical applications. There is a lack of startups, and synergistic industry collaborations. We need a robust collaboration system where industry and academia can share knowledge and create solutions that contribute to India’s self-reliance in chemicals. In any R&D, there is involvement of the supply chain. As we are aware, the feedstock availability is an issue for scientists and so is its quality and cost. Be it solving the issues of waste generation and proper utilization of raw materials, it can happen only through collaboration and discussion,” said Dr. Ganesh Naik, Senior Scientist, CSIR - Indian Institute of Petroleum.

“ The need for a digital platform, therefore, is very important, otherwise it is difficult to achieve circular chemistry or circular economy. There is also the need for showcasing the R&D being done by the various research institutions so that the industry can identify the opportunities for collaboration,” added Naik.

The PetroChem Summit 2024 themed, ‘A step towards making India self reliant’, witnessed attendance by leading industry experts and stakeholders from the petrochemical chemical sector across India.

Gold partners of the summit were Ebara Elliott Energy, and Somaiya Vidyavihar University. Associate partners were Hindustan Petroleum and Jaaji Technologies. 

Register Now to Attend NextGen Chemicals & Petrochemicals Summit 2024, 11-12 July 2024, Mumbai

Other Related stories