Recently an excellent question has been raised in the green chemistry industry: What is the potential for job growth?
Unfortunately we don’t yet have any numbers to answer this question specifically; the green chemicals sector is still a new concept within the $3 trillion chemical industry. However, we can point out that our company alone has created over a 100 jobs in just the past year as we look to grow into over a billion dollar business from an initial Department of Energy grant. And chemistry jobs are powerful – as the ACC calculates, every job in chemistry supports another 4.5 jobs elsewhere in the economy.
As we look at job forecasts, it is certainly worth recognizing that recent numbers coming out under the general umbrella of green job creation are encouraging. A recent report prepared for the U.S. Conference of Mayors forecast that the number of green jobs in the country could grow fivefold by 2038 and that green job growth could account for as many as 10 percent of new American jobs in the next 30 years. The American Solar Energy Society and Management Information Services, Inc., write that the renewable energy and energy efficiency sectors alone hold the potential of generating 37 million jobs by 2030.
Green chemistry is already creating jobs (ours included) and has the potential to become a significant part of the economic recovery and growth.
Nobel Prize winner Dr. Robert Grubbs found himself in a typical situation earlier this month – standing in front of a lecture hall talking to students about science. Yet, this time he had traded his research laboratories and university students at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena for 80 middle and high school students in San Diego.
The event was part of the month-long San Diego Science Festival and allowed Dr. Grubbs, who was inspired to study science by a teacher in junior high, to reach out to potential chemists and scientists. While Dr. Grubbs presumably did not delve too far into the details of his olefin metathesis technology (the technology which spurred the start of Elevance), the young people in attendance did hear about how he went from a high school classroom like theirs to the Nobel Prize.
With the way the green movement gaining momentum, hopefully one day we will see some of these students be inspired to make contributions with sustainable innovations in green chemistry.. Read the full North County Times article here .
This week, Shell announced that while it will continue to invest in research and development for non-food, crop-based biofuels as well as carbon capture sequestration technology, it will no longer invest in wind, solar or hydropower. Shell cited its ability to generate better returns elsewhere in its portfolio. From The Guardian: “[Shell] said that many alternative technologies did not offer attractive investment opportunities. Linda Cook, Shell’s executive director of gas and power, said: “If there aren’t investment opportunities which compete with other projects we won’t put money into it. We are businessmen and women. If there were renewables [which made money] we would put money into it.”
At the same time, The New York Times reported that for all intents and purposes biodiesel production in the U.S. has been shuttered. These twin announcements highlight to me the central paradox of the renewable sector: most of the investments and government support are geared towards taking expensive and valuable feedstocks (like natural oils and carbohydrates) and converting them into low-value fuel products. While this makes sense from a national security perspective (since the vast majority our consumption of imported oil and other fossil sources goes towards power and transport fuel), power and transport fuels are among the least valuable products produced from petroleum. By contrast, a statistic we often cite at Elevance is that the eight percent of a barrel of petroleum that gets used to produce chemicals creates 40 percent of all of the profitability from that same barrel of oil. Our commercial bio-refinery, which will make fuels and chemicals — and which we could begin building within 12 to18 months — will allow us to get our chemicals business to scale quickly while allowing us to take advantage of the government’s support for fuels projects. But make no mistake, Elevance’s focus is on making high-value specialty chemicals precisely because they can be they type of profitable investments into which a company of “businessmen and women” would put their money!
Elevance VP Corporate Development
On March 5, Department of Energy Secretary Chu wrote an Op-Ed in USA Today discussing President Obama’s investments in clean energy. Key points in his article included that the President’s pledge to invest $15 billion a year was an investment that:
· would pay for itself many times over;
· the government must lead and leverage public and private sector partnerships to meet the challenge;
· the investment will unleash innovation and
· there will be opportunities beyond wind, solar, coal and advanced biofuels.
We heartily agree and applaud this direction! Elevance was created from work initiated under a $1.8 million, two year DOE matching grant. With that investment, the DOE initiated the additional investment of well over $40 million in private capital, which has led to the creation of over 100 new jobs, innovative new products and our exciting company. We are currently working under several partnerships with industry and universities, one of which is partially funded by a SBIR Phase IIB grant from the National Science Foundation. Governmental leadership can help accelerate investment and innovation that will provide lasting economic impact.
We believe that the opportunity in specialty chemicals, which are often produced in bio-refineries along with fuels, provide a very attractive investment opportunity for the government along with wind, solar, coal and advanced biofuels. Chemicals used to be an extremely important part of the U.S. economy, and we are increasingly seeing it move overseas. President Obama’s administration would do well to consider making investments in chemicals along with their other clean energy initiatives — but more on that in a later post.
A recent Fast Company article raised some important themes about how both cross- and inter-industry partnerships can help fuel and shape the ongoing shift toward greener, more sustainable corporate practices and products.
Even McDonald’s — a $23 billion company — builds coalitions and partnerships as a way to achieve more sustainable practices among its suppliers. Because McDonald’s doesn’t have direct contact with farmers or feedlot operators — who could reduce nitrous-oxide emissions, capture methane from manure lagoons and prevent wastewater runoff — the company partners with other large companies inside and outside of the food industry.
Bob Langert, who heads McDonald’s corporate social responsibility initiatives, is hoping to form a better-beef coalition with agribusiness giant Cargill, major retail players like Wal-Mart, as well as trade and environmental groups. He certainly has experience to draw from: Langert previously partnered McDonald’s with Cargill, Greenpeace, and soybean producers ADM and Bunge to ban using feed from recently deforested areas of the Amazon. (This agreement has been extended once and will likely be renewed again this summer.)
At Elevance, we view inter- and cross-industry partnerships and coalitions in much the same way: we provide technology and our partners are responsible for getting our products to market quickly and effectively. Elevance was started through a partnership between Cargill and Materia supported by the Department of Energy, so we speak from experience.
Partnerships were a major theme of our roundtable discussion among industry leaders on February 17. Dr. Andrew Gilicinski of the Clorox Company (which just partnered with the Sierra Club on its Greenworks line of household cleaners) called the use of partnerships, “a potential game-changer in moving forward the opportunities that we could develop in the green chemistry area.”
See our Web site for a list of our partners.
- New York Times: ‘Green chemistry’ movement sprouts in colleges, companies
Sarah Goodman of Greenwire writes in that the chemical industry is slowly — but definitely — going green. The rationale for doing so has become clear: save money, reduce inefficiencies and promote brands to increasingly green-conscious consumers. Goodman also notes that university-level chemistry curriculums are making a similar shift, addressing what green chemistry advocates call “a fundamental problem in chemistry education”: the extremely low number of (and standards for) toxicology courses. Chemistry’s slow but broad turn towards a sustainability focus pleases green chemistry leaders like Neil Hawkins, vice president for sustainability at Dow Chemical Co., who believe green-minded chemistry research and development “leads to more innovative, long-term solutions.”
- Reuters: Brazil approves another GMO cotton seed variety
Reuters reports that the Brazilian biosafety commission has approved a genetically modified cottonseed for commercial use. WideStrike, produced by Dow, reduces the number of applications of insecticide necessary for growth because it has been modified to withstand most pests harmful to cotton. The seed was approved in the U.S. in 2004.
- AFP: Green investment solution to global crisis
The United Nations has proposed a green solution to the global financial crisis, writing a report claiming that investing one percent of global output into five key sectors could achieve a “Green New Deal” to drive recovery. Released just weeks before the upcoming G-20 meeting in London, the policy brief called for 750 billion dollars of green investments in five key sectors: energy efficiency in buildings, renewable energies such as wind and solar, sustainable transport such as hybrid vehicles and high-speed rail, protection of ecological infrastructure such as freshwaters and forests, and sustainable agriculture. • Chemical Week: Adoption of Bio-Feedstocks Accelerates A recent report by London-based analysts Frost & Sullivan shows that low crude oil prices are not slowing the chemical industry’s shift toward renewable feedstocks, noting that sales totaled $1.6 billion in 2008 and is set to rise to $5 billion in 2015.