The UK chemicals sector is a vital player in achieving a sustainable, low-carbon economy.
As the largest manufacturing exporter in the country, the UK chemicals industry plays a crucial role in advancing the government’s clean growth agenda. It is a cornerstone of various manufacturing sectors, including the production of commodity and bulk chemicals, speciality chemicals, polymers, and consumer chemicals.
- commodity and bulk chemicals
- speciality chemicals
- consumer chemicals
The UK chemicals industry presents significant opportunities in various areas:
Low Carbon Solutions
The industry can provide low carbon solutions that enhance energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions across multiple sectors.
There is potential for growth in the UK’s hydrogen economy by developing efficient and cost-effective hydrogen production and processing technologies.
The UK chemicals industry is well-positioned to supply the chemicals required for battery technologies, especially Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries used in electric vehicles.
Shifting from fossil fuel-based feedstocks to renewable alternatives, adopting bio-based chemicals, and developing bio-based polymers.
Providing solutions for chemical recycling and sustainable packaging to address the plastic waste issue. Digitalization can enhance efficiency, quality, and waste reduction.
These opportunities align with the industry’s role in advancing clean growth and sustainability in the UK.
The United Kingdom has become the world’s pioneer among major economies by enacting legislation aimed at achieving complete greenhouse gas emission neutrality by 2050. The chemicals industry is taking on a pivotal responsibility in accomplishing this ambitious goal.
This sector is currently actively contributing to sustainable development. It does so directly by enhancing its internal emissions, and indirectly by offering innovative products and solutions to various industries, which, in turn, allows them to offset at least 2 tonnes of greenhouse gases for every 1 tonne emitted by the chemicals sector itself.
Chemical production in the United Kingdom is primarily concentrated in four main clusters, all interconnected through a pipeline that supplies them with the essential input feedstock, ethylene. These clusters are as follows:
The North West
This region possesses all the necessary elements to achieve a low-carbon industrial cluster by 2030, including:
- Renewable energy sources
- Hydrogen technology
- Carbon capture, usage, and storage facilities
- Nuclear power infrastructure
- Advanced smart grids
Teesside stands as a globally renowned hub for various industries, such as:
- Energy production
- Advanced manufacturing
The region is at the forefront of numerous opportunities for the sector, encompassing initiatives like industrial carbon capture, utilization, and storage, as well as advancements in the hydrogen economy.
The Humber represents the UK’s second-largest chemical cluster. It is undergoing a transformative phase with new projects focused on decarbonization and renewable energy, including initiatives like Humber Zero and Gigastack.
Grangemouth covers a wide spectrum of chemical sciences, from fundamental chemicals like ethylene and basic polymers to intermediate and specialty products, extending to pharmaceuticals and active ingredients in agricultural chemicals.
These clusters play a pivotal role in the UK’s chemical industry, each with its unique strengths and contributions to the sector.
The UK chemicals sector has a strong track record of innovation, with significant investment in research and development. This represents a substantial portion of the United Kingdom’s total R&D spending. The sector is well-positioned to pioneer technologies for decarbonizing the hydrogen economy and implementing carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS). Key R&D institutions in the sector include:
- The Centre for Process Innovation: This organisation collaborates with partners to develop products that safeguard and enhance the environment, while also boosting productivity within the chemical industries.
- The National Formulation Centre: This centre equips companies with the tools and expertise necessary for successfully bringing their next-generation formulated products to the commercial market.
- The Advanced Propulsion Centre: This centre facilitates funding, offers expertise, and fosters collaboration to advance chemical technologies aimed at producing environmentally friendly automotive products.
- The Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre: Located in Scotland, this is a networking and support organisation that plays a crucial role in advancing industrial biotechnology within the sector.
Business and government support
Innovate UK offers funding ranging from £25,000 to £10 million through open grant funding competitions.
The Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) facilitates innovation by connecting fresh ideas and opportunities with expertise, markets, and financial resources through a network that encompasses businesses, universities, funds, and investors. The KTN collaborates with all sectors that incorporate chemicals or chemistry in their operations, including UK chemical manufacturers.
The government provides support for investment via the Chemistry Council, the UK Catalysis Hub, and multiple Knowledge Transfer Partnerships.
Additionally, incentives are available for research and development, which encompass R&D tax credits and R&D expenditure credits.