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‘Intermediate manufacturing holds the sweet spot for India’s chemical exports’

Intermediate manufacturing holds the sweet spot for India’s chemical industry to become part of the global supply chain, said Bimal Goculdas, President, Indian Chemical Council (ICC). 

He was delivering the keynote address at the first edition of the Industry Institutions Partnership Summit 2022, organised by the ICC Southern Region and IIT Madras. ICC is the apex national body representing 400 manufacturers across all branches of the chemical industry, including organic & inorganic chemicals, plastics & petrochemicals & petroleum refineries, fertilizers & pesticides, specialty chemicals and paints. 

Goculdas said the Indian chemical industry has an opportunity for growth due to raising income levels, consumption, and standards of living. However, he added that despite the spurt in consumption, it is not feasible for the country to manufacture bulk or large- volume chemicals such as petrochemicals and petroleum products. “Because we don’t have the raw material, feedstock or infrastructure to receive the feedstock and distribute them.” 

He said, on the other end of the spectrum, there are some global pharma companies whose R&D spends are more than the combined revenue of the entire Indian pharma industry. “So it is difficult for Indian companies to invent new molecules.” 

“Hence, we need to look at the space inbetween which is the intermediates, specialty chemicals and fine chemicals. This is where India’s sweet spot lies. This is where we can compete globally, reduce our import dependence and be a source of production for foreign countries,” he added.  

He said the industry and institutions could work together to make new processes and intermediates, such as active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), dye and pigment intermediates.

The summit’s theme was ‘A Roadmap for Strengthening Industry-Institution Linkages for Transforming Chemicals Industry’. 

Sharing the industry perspective, R Parthasarathy, Chairman, Thirumalai Chemicals Ltd., said the industry-institution interaction from the chemical industry point of view has been a ‘non-starter’ for the past 20 years.

He said both the industry and institution are working in silos. The industry has its own urgencies and drivers.  “It needs knowledge and help but doesn’t know how to seek it.” While institutions have competence, knowledge, and the need to partner with industries, their drivers differ. 

On the institution perspective, Manu Santhanam, Dean, Centre for Industrial Consultancy and Sponsored Research at IIT Madras, said the institute does lot of translational research addressing some of the industrial challenges besides working on transformational research that drives social impact and create disruptions in the sector housing, water, healthcare, education and energy. 

He added that the institute has 1,500 ongoing projects with about more than 600 Indian companies and 84 foreign companies. “We annually file 200-250 patents every year and this number is expected to go up further.”

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