Chemical industry as a Smart Cities enabler.
Chemistry, which is at the heart of all modern industries, can make the Smart Cities project more sustainable, more energy efficient and more cost effective
India is witnessing a wave of migration from the rural to urban areas. This trend is likely to continue as the economy advances significantly. According to a McKinsey Global Institute report, India’s urban population is projected to increase from 340 million in 2008 to 590 million by 2030. This is going to create tremendous pressure on the already crumbling infrastructure in existing cities. Bearing this in mind, the Government of India (GOI) has put its weight behind development of 100 Smart Citiesin the country.
Traditionally cities are created over thousands of years. Development of a Smart City implies compressing the process and making it happen in short span of 3-4 years. India has the advantage to learn from many cities around the world – Singapore, London, Barcelona, Flanders in Belgium and more. Every Smart City is unique and an evolution over the previous ones.
Critical aspects of a city such as managing resources, stabilising pollution levels, allocating energy are traditionally calculated independent of each other. There is an opportunity in putting together a holistic blue-print and making these cities into a tangible reality.
I believe the chemical industry has a key role to play in thesustainable evolution of the smart cities in India. The chemical industry is the energiser of economic development. Currently, the industry contributes about 6.5 to 7% to the GDP. Bearing this ratio in mind, we are looking at an opportunity of around $ 0.7 billion in development of each city as the estimated investment is about $1 billion,according to USIBC Financial Strategies for Smart Cities.
Additionally, chemistry is at the heart of all modern industries, including electronics, information technology, biotechnology and nano-technology. A closer look at these building blocks of value-chain would tell us that chemistry can make the Smart Cities project more sustainable, more energy efficient and more cost effective.
On a macro-level, there are five broad critical elements of any Smart City – water management systems, infrastructure, transportation, energy and waste management.
Let us examine how the chemicals industry can contribute to each one of these and make them not just economically viable but also environmentally sustainable.
Water management systems
Desalination of sea water, sustainable water treatment solutions, recycling, water discharge facilities and providing a 24×7 water supply are few areas where the expertise of the chemicals industry provide thrust to economically viable solutions.
In development of infrastructure, the construction and coatings industry has taken several gigantic leaps in the past few years. Energy use in buildings accounts globally for nearly 40% of energy consumption & 36% of total energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, according to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In the UAE, air-conditioning contributes to 65-70% of electricity consumption.
For tropical regions in India, Phase Change Materials (PCM) enable walls and ceilings to absorb and store excess heat during the day and dissipate it at night. This enables further savings of energy on heating and cooling processes. For the hotter areas, high reflectance and durable outdoor coatings that if applied to roofs and walls reflect radiation from sunlight and reduce roof and wall temperatures, leading to energy savings on cooling. This is particularly useful not only for residential areas but also public buildings such as – malls, hospitals and more.
Over the years, we have reached an all new level when it comes to enhancing interior air quality through reducing volatile organic compound (VOC) by using formaldehyde abatement and ammonia-free paints.
Recently, Amitabh Kant, Secretary, Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) was quoted saying that we want to develop Smart Cities where 85 percent of people utilise the public transport and the other 15 percent either choose to walk or cycle to work.
It is clear that India wants to set its own benchmarks while developing these 100 cities. We seek greater energy efficiency, higher safety norms and lower exhaust emissions. Presently a vast range of composite polymers are available for light-weighting of vehicles. Light weighting techniques use lower density foams that stand up to rigorous Indian conditions – different kinds of weather, fluctuations in temperature, variation in humidity levels, and change in altitude. Furthermore, with deployment of specific elastomers – vibrations can be reduced and we can enable noise-free transportation.
With India’s increasing demand for energy facing limited capacity, the call for energy-efficient construction materials is getting louder. Because of its excellent insulating properties polyurethanes are used in the production of insulation for prefabricated panels by the construction industry, and in cold chain and wood imitation applications. They additionally offer excellent structural strength, durability and adhesion to laminates and liner materials, which are inherent structural elements for the end products.
A wide family of heat transfer fluids deliver the specialised technologies to achieve the optimum combination of stability, efficiency and economy. Utilised widely by retail cold-storage units world over, these fluids offer a stable replacement to the refrigerant gases hence avoid pollution.
India is a resource rich country. However, consumption of alternative energy while creating these new spaces, appears to be a logical step. Solar panels traditionally use ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) components, which are expensive, and not easily available. This creates a barrier to the widespread use of solar energy. However, with close study of the Indian environment, scientists have been able to create effective alternatives which offer superior performance, while significantly improving cost efficiencies.
Chemical industry can offer credible solution for sewage treatment problem of the smart cities. The sewage treatment plant (STP), which can use advanced tertiary treatment via ultrafiltration (UF) and reverse osmosis (RO) technologies, can operate round-the-clock to reuse wastewater and save huge amount of water every day. Treated water can then be utilised for other activities such as air-conditioning cooling, toilet flushing, horticulture, construction, etc.
Besides the above mentioned examples, the industry can contribute to maintaining hygiene and health standards of these cities by controlled release of biocides. The industry can partner with the technology giants and turn this sci-fi dream into a reality.
The chemicals industry is still in a nascent stagein India. Our challenge today, is to develop this industry into a vast portfolio of value-added solutions that could contribute to these engines of economic growth. With a unified attempt from the industry – sky is the limit for us.
-Business Standard. Sudhir Shenoy | Mumbai March 16, 2015