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C&EN’s World Chemical Outlook 2021

A look ahead at the issues that will affect—and connect—chemists and chemistry across the globe

by C&EN Staff
January 10, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 2

Credit: Shutterstock/C&EN

With millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccine already administered, the world is beginning to sense a future without the pandemic. But chemists will still feel its impact, at least at the start of the year, as they wait for the economy to recover its prepandemic swagger. Meanwhile, expect to see companies and regulators return their focus to environmental issues such as climate change, persistent pollutants, plastics recycling, and clean energy. The European Union and UK still have Brexit issues to solve, while China’s specialty chemical makers will benefit from a push to grow high-tech industries. Read on to learn more about these and other key business and policy issues for 2021, and watch for our Feb. 1 edition, in which we deliver an in-depth look at what the election of Joe Biden will mean for the world of chemistry.


Climate Change

Chemical firms will coalesce around more ambitious climate goals

by Craig Bettenhausen


It’s already unusual for a chemical company not to have specific, public targets for reducing its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In 2021, expect more firms to change their goals to net-zero GHG emissions by 2050, in line with the urging of the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.


• Chemical companies’ climate goals are getting more ambitious.

• Standards are emerging on carbon-counting practices and goal setting.

• The industry is focused on energy efficiency and renewable power now, but it will likely need carbon capture at some point.

• Big players are leading the way to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The report suggests that humanity can limit global warming to 1.5 °C above preindustrial levels if by 2030 we cut carbon dioxide emissions by 45% from 2010 levels and reach net zero by 2050. In addition to a clear goal to rally around, the report provides standardized methods for auditing GHG emissions.

C&EN looked at the targets set by 25 firms and found that they fall into three basic categories.

The smallest group has the most modest goal: keep GHG emissions flat. In part, that goal reflects aggressive growth targets, because increasing chemical output without releasing more carbon requires new, top-of-the-line equipment and upgrades to existing facilities. The next and largest group is looking on average to cut GHG emissions by 35% from 2010 levels, usually by about 2030. Beyond that, a number of companies—including some of the biggest—aim to be carbon neutral by 2050, meeting the IPCC recommendation. As chemical firms update their goals in 2021, more will likely join this most ambitious cohort, as Eastman Chemical did in December.

The first chunk of it is just simple business sense—be as efficient as possible, and that’s going to help your bottom line.
Charlie Quann, carbon services lead, Antea Group

Efficiency and renewable power are the most popular strategies for reducing GHG emissions. “The first chunk of it is just simple business sense—be as efficient as possible, and that’s going to help your bottom line,” says Charlie Quann, carbon services lead at the consulting firm Antea Group.

To get all the way to net zero, Quann says, the chemical industry will need to capture the GHGs it produces rather than release them to the air. Companies that have carbon capture at the center of their plans now are mostly the chemical divisions of oil companies such as ExxonMobil and PetroChina, but the rest of the industry is watching the technology closely, he says.

Firms that have led the industry in climate change response have already picked a lot of their low-hanging fruit, in some cases leading to current goals that look relatively tame. BASF, for example, emphasizes in its sustainability reports that it has already reduced its GHG emissions by 49% from 1990 levels, and it hopes to resume reducing emissions in 2030.

Consensus is also emerging on how to quantify and report climate change’s risk to businesses, with a standardized approach known as the TCFD framework proposed by the international Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures. The framework allows shareholders to get their heads around the numbers, Quann says, and they are using those numbers to make specific, actionable, and consistent demands on executives. “Everybody is starting to realize that climate risk is financial risk,” he says.

Varying ambitions

Carbon-reduction targets for 25 chemical companies fall into three categories.

Company Target Target date
Modest: Carbon-neutral growth
BASF Maintain 2018 levels n/a
ExxonMobil Chemical Maintain 2020 levels n/a
LG Chem Maintain 2019 levels n/a
Moderate: Near-term carbon reduction
Air Liquide 30% reduction versus 2015 2025
Braskem 58% reduction versus 2008 2030
Covestro 50% reduction versus 2005 2025
Evonik Industries 50% reduction versus 2008 2025
Linde 35% reduction versus 2018 2028
Lotte Chemical 26% reduction versus 2013 2028
LyondellBasell Industries 15% reduction versus 2015 2030
Mitsui Chemicals 25% reduction versus 2005 2030
Sabic 25% reduction versus 2010 2025
Shin-Etsu Chemical 55% reduction versus 1990 2025
Solvay 26% reduction versus 2018 2030
Sumitomo Chemicalᵃ 57% reduction versus 2013 2050
Toray Industries 30% reduction versus 2013 2030
Ambitious: Net zero by 2050
Chemours Carbon negative 2050
Dow Carbon neutral 2050
DuPont Carbon neutral 2050
Eastman Chemical Carbon neutral 2050
Mitsubishi Chemical Carbon neutral 2050
PetroChina Near carbon neutral 2050
Reliance Industries Carbon neutral 2035
Sinopec Carbon neutral 2030
Yara Carbon neutral 2050

Modest: Carbon-neutral growth

Company: BASF

Target: Maintain 2018 levels

Target date: n/a

Company: ExxonMobil Chemical

Target: Maintain 2020 levels

Target date: n/a

Company: LG Chem

Target: Maintain 2019 levels

Target date: n/a

Moderate: Near-term carbon reduction

Company: Air Liquide

Target: 30% reduction versus 2015

Target date: 2025

Company: Braskem

Target: 58% reduction versus 2008

Target date: 2030

Company: Covestro

Target: 50% reduction versus 2005

Target date: 2025

Company: Evonik Industries

Target: 50% reduction versus 2008

Target date: 2025

Company: Linde

Target: 35% reduction versus 2018

Target date: 2028

Company: Lotte Chemical

Target: 26% reduction versus 2013

Target date: 2028

Company: LyondellBasell Industries

Target: 15% reduction versus 2015

Target date: 2030

Company: Mitsui Chemicals

Target: 25% reduction versus 2005

Target date: 2030

Company: Sabic

Target: 25% reduction versus 2010

Target date: 2025

Company: Shin-Etsu Chemical

Target: 55% reduction versus 1990

Target date: 2025

Company: Solvay

Target: 26% reduction versus 2018

Target date: 2030

Company: Sumitomo Chemicalᵃ

Target: 57% reduction versus 2013

Target date: 2050

Company: Toray Industries

Target: 30% reduction versus 2013

Target date: 2030

Ambitious: Net zero by 2050

Company: Chemours

Target: Carbon negative

Target date: 2050

Company: Dow

Target: Carbon neutral

Target date: 2050

Company: DuPont

Target: Carbon neutral

Target date: 2050

Company: Eastman Chemical

Target: Carbon neutral

Target date: 2050

Company: Mitsubishi Chemical

Target: Carbon neutral

Target date: 2050

Company: PetroChina

Target: Near carbon neutral

Target date: 2050

Company: Reliance Industries

Target: Carbon neutral

Target date: 2035

Company: Sinopec

Target: Carbon neutral

Target date: 2030

Company: Yara

Target: Carbon neutral

Target date: 2050

Sources: Companies, as of December 2020.
Note: n/a means not applicable.
a Sumitomo is also targeting a decrease of 30% by 2030.



US chemical industry will bounce back this year

by Melody M. Bomgardner
Credit: Intel
Sales of chemicals used in semiconductor manufacturing will continue at a brisk pace this year.


The shape of the US recovery from the short, but sharp, recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic will likely resemble a V with a flat bottom—really more of a U. Many sectors of the economy, including chemical manufacturing, will spend a bit more time in the trough than expected, thanks to the mandated closings that returned in the fall, economists say.


• The US economy will return to growth, but the size and timing of the rebound are uncertain.

• Sales of chemicals for electronics, appliances, and home improvement will continue their upswing.

• US exports of basic chemicals will revive, but automotive and aerospace demand will remain weak.

• Chemical companies will invest in R&D and acquisitions with a focus on sustainability.

But the timing and magnitude of the coming upswing remain uncertain. Timing will depend on how well and how quickly COVID-19 vaccines are rolled out as well as when consumers and businesses will gain confidence and begin spending again.

As for magnitude, at the end of summer, Duane Dickson, a principal at the consulting firm Deloitte, was optimistic about a full recovery for the chemical industry. “I thought we were going to return to prepandemic performance at the end of 2021. That will be harder to do now,” he says. Dickson now pegs the odds of a complete rebound this year at 50:50.

Indeed, forecasts of US economic growth in 2021 vary widely. The Conference Board, which develops indexes for business and consumer confidence, posted an estimate of 3.6%. The investment bank Morgan Stanley chose a more aggressive 5.9%.

Going into 2021, US chemical companies will be looking to recover from a 3.6% drop in output in 2020 compared with 2019, according to the American Chemistry Council, the industry’s main trade association. Some sectors kept humming throughout 2020, including materials used in electronics, appliances, home improvement, personal protective equipment, and cleaning products, the ACC reports. Hardest hit were companies serving the automotive and aerospace industries.

There is an opportunity to reposition to more sustainable, circular types of business.
Duane Dickson, principal, Deloitte

However, demand for chemicals typically strengthens early in a recovery as manufacturers ramp up production of goods, meaning chemical firms will get a head start on better times. Consequently, the ACC expects chemical output to regain ground, growing 3.9% in 2021.

Those segments that did well last year will grow even faster, the ACC says, and demand for chemicals for construction, plastic goods, and food will more than make up their 2020 deficits. In contrast, sales of coatings, synthetic rubber, and fibers will make up only a small fraction of last year’s losses.


Change in US chemical output in 2020 compared with 2019


Projected growth in US chemical output in 2021 compared with 2020

Source: American Chemistry Council.

The petrochemical sector will enjoy an estimated 5.0% growth in output, according to the ACC. The pandemic-related drop in oil prices did not erase the cost advantage that US producers enjoy from low-priced natural gas extracted from shale. Martha Moore, the ACC’s senior director of policy analysis and economics, says investment in shale-advantaged projects continues apace, with only 2% of announced projects on hold.

Plastic for packaging will grow by more than 6% in 2021, Moore says, “due to a rebound in end-use market sectors, new capacity, and the US shale advantage.” Much of the additional manufacturing will be for export, she says, “And there are a lot of reasons to be positive about that.”

Meanwhile, the focus of executives at US chemical firms will shift from operations and cost cutting to R&D and digitization to gain market share in fast-growing areas like sustainable solutions, Deloitte’s Dickson says. Companies with operations in Europe will feel pressure to become carbon neutral, for one thing. Dickson also points to industry commitments to reduce plastic waste, and societal needs like replacements for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.

Such strategic shifts are likely to heat up chemical dealmaking this year, Dickson predicts. “Not only are companies looking for quality chemical businesses to complement portfolios, but there is an opportunity to reposition to more sustainable, circular types of business.”


Persistent pollutants

Scientists will refine which chemicals are PFAS

by Cheryl Hogue
Several chloroperfluoropolyether carboxylates have been identified in New Jersey soil samples with varying numbers of perfluoroethyl (shown in red) and perfluoropropyl (shown in black) groups.


This year, an international panel of scientists plans to release a more precise definition of a class of chemicals often found in news headlines—per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).


• Scientists from across the globe will provide a new definition of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.

• The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the United Nations Environment Programme are spearheading this effort.

PFAS are a group of synthetic, environmentally stable “forever chemicals” that persist in the environment. They include inert polymers such as polytetrafluoroethylene—used in Teflon—and toxic, biologically active compounds such as the widespread pollutant perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).

PFAS also include novel compounds that researchers have discovered in the environment near industrial facilities. One is hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid (HFPO-DA), a substance formed via hydrolysis from GenX, Chemours’s replacement for PFOA. Others are chloroperfluoropolyether carboxylates, detected in soil near a Solvay plant in New Jersey.

The panel, the Global Perfluorinated Chemicals Group, is reviewing “the universe and terminology of PFAS,” says Marie-Ange Baucher, administrator for chemical accidents and risk management of chemicals at the Environment Directorate of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Baucher and the group’s leader, Zhanyun Wang, a senior scientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Zurich, expect the panel to publish a report early this year.

The panel was established in 2012 at the third International Conference on Chemicals Management and is supported by the OECD and the United Nations Environment Programme.



Petrochemicals get past the pandemic, but the building spree may slow

by Alexander H. Tullo
Credit: Fluor
A new linear, low-density polyethylene plant at Sasol's Lake Charles, Louisiana, complex


The COVID-19 lockdowns walloped most sectors of the economy, but demand for petrochemicals, particularly ethylene, held up fairly well. That makes sense. Ethylene goes into a lot of the essentials needed in the crisis, like the polyethylene wrap that packages toilet paper or the ethylene oxide used to make detergents.


• Demand for petrochemicals held up during the pandemic, thanks to the essential products they go into.

• Because of a flurry of new capacity, profitability in the sector will likely be relatively weak.

• Large chemical makers might be wary of new ethylene and polyethylene projects.

But while it wasn’t a down year for petrochemical makers, growth was still slow, a setback in an industry that has been building new capacity at a dizzying pace. It will take years for demand to absorb all the new output around the world, and the oversupply will likely deter more projects.

In Dow’s third-quarter earnings conference call in October, the company reported 3% volume growth in polyethylene versus the same quarter a year earlier. The firm credited growth in food packaging and in products related to health and hygiene.

Dow CEO Jim Fitterling predicted during the call that polyethylene would continue its rally. “Polyethylene demand has been stronger year over year every month, all year long, even through the second quarter,” he said.

Bounce back
US polyethylene prices bottomed out early in 2020 but have already recovered to pre-COVID-19 levels.

Source: LyondellBasell Industries.

This strength in polyethylene reverberated back to its raw material, ethylene. Steve Lewandowski, vice president of olefins for the consulting firm IHS Markit, says global ethylene demand grew by 2 million metric tons (t) in 2020 compared with 2019, a rate of about 1.5%. In a normal year, it grows about 4%.

You’re starting to see delays and starting to see cancellations.
Bob Patel, CEO, LyondellBasell Industries

Lewandowski expects demand to climb by about 3% this year and to return to the 4% long-term trend line in 2022, after the world puts the pandemic fully behind it.

Meanwhile, more ethylene capacity has been coming on line—about 13 million t in 2020 and 11 million t in 2021, he says. It will mostly be in Asia, though 2021 might see one prominent US start-up: an ethylene and polyethylene facility in Bayport, Texas, being built by Total and Borealis.

At the end of 2020, operating rates at ethylene plants around the world stood at a healthy 88–89%. But they will likely fall to 86% this year and 82% in 2022, according to IHS.

Such operating rate declines will put pressure on some industry participants to shutter plants. For instance, Lewandowski says China’s coal-based ethylene production, which is also under environmental scrutiny, might be vulnerable.

With all the new production, chemical makers will likely slow the pace of projects that are still on the drawing board. “All this capacity has to be absorbed,” Lewandowski says. “And until that happens, everyone’s a bit shier about building new projects.”

Evidence suggests that chemical companies are backing off and slowing down expansions. Saudi Aramco shelved a project it had slated for Texas. And while the Thai chemical maker PTT Global Chemical says it is still committed to an Ohio project it has had on the drawing board many years, the firm hasn’t made a final decision yet.

LyondellBasell Industries CEO Bob Patel recently told stock analysts that the conditions are exactly as one might expect in the chemical business cycle when a surplus of capacity is constructed. “You’re starting to see delays and starting to see cancellations.”



Here comes the new normal for Europe’s chemical industry

by Alex Scott
Credit: Airbus
Business with aerospace companies such as Airbus, maker of the A320 plane, will be slow to recover in 2021.


Certain European chemical companies—DSM and Evonik Industries are two examples—have weathered the COVID-19 pandemic surprisingly well, and they are well placed to take advantage of any market rebound in 2021, industry experts say.


• A €750 billion ($900 billion) stimulus package will catalyze investment in sustainable technologies.

• Companies selling into end markets heavily impacted by COVID-19 will continue to feel adverse effects through 2021.

• Despite a Brexit deal with the European Union, the UK’s chemical industry faces uncertainty in international trade.

But there is a definite split within the sector. Many other European chemical companies exposed to end markets such as auto and aerospace manufacturing will continue to feel the negative impact of COVID-19 through 2021, says Bernd Elser, managing director for chemicals at the consulting firm Accenture. These include many firms based in France and Italy. And the UK’s chemical industry enters the new year with a zero-tariff deal governing the country’s exit from the European Union but uncertainty about nontariff matters.

With the emergence of COVID-19 vaccines and the effect of Europe’s economic stimulus package, though, “I am optimistic for the year ahead,” Elser says.

The stimulus package—called NextGenerationEU—will see more than €750 billion ($900 billion) of cash and cheap loans available for environmental, digital, and other projects this year and for several years to come. Projects that the fund will target include materials for lithium-ion batteries, green hydrogen production and storage, biorefining, and plastics recycling.

I am optimistic for the year ahead.
Bernd Elser, managing director of chemicals, Accenture

However, the European Union must implement the stimulus package rapidly and firmly embed it within the EU’s industrial strategy if Europe’s chemical industry is to become sustainable and contribute to a resilient economy, Marco Mensink, director general of the European Chemical Industry Council, a trade group, warns in a recent newsletter.

And even if the European chemical industry rebounds in 2021, it won’t be to prepandemic conditions but rather to a new kind of environment shaped by the megatrends of an aging population and the need for sustainable products, says Paul Hodges, chairman of New Normal Consulting. It is not all bad news. “This shift is already creating major new opportunities for our industry,” he says.



Europe is implementing a tax on plastic

by Alexander H. Tullo


European environmentalists scored a win last summer when the European Union passed a tax of €0.80 (about $1.00) per kilogram on nonrecycled plastic packaging waste, effective Jan. 1 of this year. But the tax isn’t likely to boost recycling rates anytime soon.


• The European Union has enacted a tax on nonrecycled plastics.

• Individual countries can decide whether to implement plastics taxes of their own to recover the levies paid to the EU.

• Some governments, at least for now, have opted to pay the tax to the EU out of their own pockets.

The tax is part of the EU’s €750 billion ($900 billion) COVID-19 economic recovery package. It’s paired with other new taxes on, for example, financial transactions and imports of carbon-intensive products.

A report from Deutsche Bank says the plastics tax is meant “to create incentives for member states to reduce waste and increase recycling,” but the report authors note that the tax also has a less idealistic motive: raising about €7 billion annually to help pay for the recovery package.


The proportion of postconsumer plastic packaging recovered for recycling in the European Union in 2018


The proportion processed by recyclers for conversion into usable plastics

Source: IHS Markit.

Even though the plastics tax is now in place, Europe’s consumers and companies that use plastics won’t necessarily see big changes right away, says Gabriel Kurt, head of trade and customs for Germany and Europe, the Middle East, and Africa at the auditing firm KPMG. This lag is because member states pay the levy to the EU on the basis of their plastic recycling rates. The countries aren’t obliged to recover the money through plastics taxes of their own.

Austria, for example, plans to pay out of its general budget, Kurt says. Italy and Spain, on the other hand, are in the process of passing plastics taxes.

Such taxes may be hard for consumers to swallow. Kaushik Mitra, director of polyolefins for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa at the consulting firm IHS Markit, did an analysis of the tax that assumed a 42% recycling rate for Europe and that the tax would be broadly enforced. He found it would increase the cost of plastic packaging by 20–60% and the cost of consumer goods by 3–8%—amounts that consumers “are unlikely to accept,” Mitra says.


Hydrogen Power

Public money to stimulate supply of sustainable hydrogen

by Alex Scott
Credit: Yara
Yara plans to produce ammonia derived from green hydrogen at two locations in Europe. Power to generate the hydrogen will come from hydroelectric sources and wind farms such as this one off the coast of the Netherlands.


The production of carbon-neutral hydrogen, dubbed green hydrogen, and of low-carbon hydrogen, dubbed blue hydrogen, is set to increase around the world in 2021, especially in Europe.


• A surge of interest in sustainable hydrogen shows no signs of abating.

• Stimulus packages in Europe, Canada, and the US are set to bring substantial support for green hydrogen projects.

• Europe plans to increase green hydrogen production by a factor of six, to 1 million metric tons by 2024.

• China may step up activity around sourcing hydrogen from coal.

“There’s been a surge of interest in hydrogen, and it’s not slowing down,” says Runeel Daliah, an analyst at Lux Research. The attention is a response to the continued restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions by regulators around the world. “For countries to reach their greenhouse gas emissions targets, either they get rid of their heavy industry, or they decarbonize the sector. Introducing green hydrogen is one of the best solutions for decarbonizing,” Daliah says.

Hydrogen is a simple yet versatile molecule suitable for use as a chemical feedstock, fuel, or energy carrier. Announcements of new green and blue hydrogen projects in Europe are expected to increase rapidly in 2021, partly in response to a surge of public cofunding for such projects from the European Union’s €750 billion ($900 billion) NextGenerationEU package. Companies have already announced plans to build more than 100 green hydrogen projects across the region.


The number of green hydrogen projects set to start production in Europe by 2040

Source: Hydrogen Europe.

Production of green hydrogen by renewable energy–powered water electrolysis sits at the heart of the EU’s plan to be carbon neutral by 2050. As a first step, the region aims to increase water electrolysis capacity sixfold to 6 GW by 2024, enough to produce up to 1 million metric tons of green hydrogen. Blue hydrogen is made by reforming methane and then capturing and storing the by-product carbon dioxide.

The Canadian and US governments are also looking to implement major stimulus packages to advance green energy programs, which will support companies deploying hydrogen fuel, says Daniel Brock, a partner with the Canadian law firm Fasken and a member of the firm’s hydrogen energy advisory team, which launched in December. An uptick in the announcement of green hydrogen projects in Canada, in particular, is in the cards in 2021 as companies seek to take advantage of increased funding, says Janet Howard, also a partner with Fasken.

Hydrogen is having a serious moment.
Gary Ong, CEO, Celadyne Technologies

Meanwhile, expect China—which aims to be carbon neutral by 2050 but still relies heavily on coal—to start to look at generating hydrogen from coal while capturing and storing the leftover carbon, Daliah says.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that investors see money to be made in hydrogen technologies and production projects. Says Gary Ong, CEO of Celadyne Technologies, a US start-up developing a cost-saving membrane for electrolyzers and fuel cells, “Hydrogen is having a serious moment.”


Research Funding

Europe faces delays in research funding

by Benjamin Plackett, special to C&EN


Squabbles over a proposed budget for the European Union’s new flagship research funding program, Horizon Europe, have delayed the project’s rollout. Researchers may face funding gaps as grants under the previous scheme, Horizon 2020, run out amid discussions about how non-EU countries can participate in the program.


• Protracted negotiations over Brexit have delayed the start of the 7-year Horizon Europe research funding program.

• The conditions by which the UK and other non–European Union countries might participate won’t be clear for many months to come.

Lengthy negotiations on the UK’s Brexit from the EU consistently ran past their deadlines in 2020 and are partly to blame for the delay—the EU wanted to finalize a trade deal with the UK before setting the terms by which non-EU countries can join Horizon Europe. “The union hasn’t wanted to put all its cards on the table,” says Kurt Deketelaere, secretary general of the League of European Research Universities.

This hesitancy means questions remain over how to implement the 7-year program, and it will likely take months to answer them. Enrolling the UK in Horizon Europe will likely take even longer. “Optimistically, it could be June, but I would say let’s aim for the first quarter of 2022,” Deketelaere says.

€95.5 billion

Funding expected to be allocated by the European Union for the Horizon Europe research program, which will run 2021–27. This amount, approximately $117 billion, doesn’t include possible contributions from non-EU countries.

Source: European Commission, as of Dec. 10, 2020.

The EU wants the UK to be involved with Horizon Europe because the country is likely to pay a sizable amount to participate, while many EU countries seem lukewarm about contributing more to the pot. Additionally, “The UK is a strong research country, and it would weaken the program not to have us involved,” says Martin Smith, who works on policy and advocacy at the Wellcome Trust, a UK nonprofit that funds health research.

A sticking point for non-EU members to join Horizon Europe involves a country’s return on its investment. A country’s contribution to Horizon Europe is to be calculated according to gross national product. A correction mechanism kicks in if a country disproportionately receives more funding than it pays into the scheme—but not if a country pays a lot more than it receives. “We’re saying there should be a limit for the amount a country pays in if it isn’t getting enough funding grants in return,” Smith says.

Optimistically, it could be June, but I would say let’s aim for the first quarter of 2022.
Kurt Deketelaere, secretary general, League of European Research Universities

It’s important for the EU to get these terms and conditions right because other potential associate countries—including Australia, Canada, and Japan—are watching. “What happens here will set the tone for these other countries to join,” Smith says.



China will continue to struggle to evaluate its scientists’ work

by Hepeng Jia, special to C&EN


After years of trying to move away from assessing its scientists strictly on the basis of numbers, China is still struggling to find a feasible alternative to counting the number of papers published or patents issued, how many times they are cited, and the impact factors of the journals.


• China continues to wrestle with how to move away from strictly numbers-based assessments to rank researchers.

• Ministries have tried to encourage evaluation based on innovation and talent development, but organizations need more specific guidance.

As the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the country and began to spread across the globe, public anger erupted in February over scientists’ rush to publish papers rather than find a practical solution.

The Ministry of Science and Technology and Ministry of Education jointly issued guidance asking universities and research funders to stop relying solely on scientific papers when assessing faculty and grant applications. The evaluation of scientists should rely on their genuine contributions to scientific innovation, the guidance said—but it did not clarify how that contribution should be appraised, aside from encouraging positive consideration of papers published domestically as well as internationally.

In November, the Education Ministry recommended that talent cultivation should be a central metric in evaluating universities, though again the recommendation was vague on how to conduct such an evaluation.

The new system is still aimed at making government ministries rule scientists rather than to serve them.
Gong Jianghong, professor of materials science, Tsinghua University

It was not the first time China has tried to break away from its reliance on paper and patent metrics. In late 2018, several science-related ministries issued a similar call, also to little avail.

Whether China’s research community will be able to implement further change in 2021 is unclear. Evaluators seems to have a compulsion to quantitatively assess scientists and universities in a way that allows ranking rather than use qualitative evaluations that aren’t clear cut.

“The new system is still aimed at making government ministries rule scientists rather than to serve them. This is why number-based evaluations occur again and again,” says Gong Jianghong, a materials science professor at Tsinghua University. “Relying on the number is the easiest way for officials to rule science and scientists.”


Specialty Chemicals

China’s 14th Five-Year Plan will favor specialty chemicals as part of an emphasis on high-end manufacturing

by Craig Bettenhausen
Credit: Yin Bogu/Xinhua News Agency/Newscom
China's Central Committee met in October to work on the country's next 5-year economic plan.


In March, China’s government will release the country’s 14th Five-Year Plan, an economic road map covering 2021–25. Though the plan is not yet public, official statements, other planning documents, and industry insight into the process suggest specialty chemicals will enjoy favored status.


• China’s 14th Five-Year Plan, due out in March, will encourage specialty chemical growth.

• China’s president aims to move away from the “world factory” economic model.

• Increased focus on climate change and pollution is coming.

Overall, the plan aims to grow high-tech industries, make supply chains more self-sufficient, and develop more domestic demand for high-tech products and services. China’s president, Xi Jinping, wrote in a statement for an October road map planning meeting that the country needs to emphasize quality of development over speed of development.

Xi also talked about moving away from China’s current development model, in which it serves as the world’s factory, both because the model has served its purpose and because relying on foreign markets and suppliers is risky given increasing nationalism and protectionism around the globe.

The emphasis on high-tech industry will benefit specialty chemical makers operating in China. Most of that sector is included in the government’s list of “encouraged segments” and will enjoy tax breaks, reduced import duties, and R&D subsidies. Kai Pflug, a chemical consultant specializing in China, flags engineering plastics, organosilicones, fluoroorganic compounds, and water treatment membranes as categories that will receive such encouragement.

To supply its growing manufacturing base in high-end electronics, China is also looking to increase domestic production of electronic chemicals and functional materials, Pflug says.

Another high-tech sector of interest is electric vehicles, says Kevin Wu, senior vice president for the Asia-Pacific region at the nylon 6,6 producer Ascend Performance Materials. The auto industry in general is rebounding in China, he says, and China is particularly well placed to benefit from electric vehicle growth, with 6 of the world’s top 15 electric vehicle makers based in the country.

Both Pflug and Wu say the new plan will likely emphasize environmental stewardship. Pflug expects the government to expand its efforts to concentrate chemical production in designated industrial parks and encourage mergers of small companies.

The government hopes such changes, along with investments in centralized waste management, will allow it to implement plans including a permit system for pollutant discharges and “market-oriented trading of pollutant discharge rights,” according to a statement from the October meeting.


Food Ingredients

Companies and investors will want a taste of animal-free protein

by Melody M. Bomgardner
Credit: Eat Just
Eat Just's nuggets, made with chicken cells grown in a bioreactor, have been approved for sale in Singapore.


In the world’s grocery stores, alternative meat, egg, and dairy products are moving into space once occupied by animal-derived foods. The trend, which began with revamped plant-based burgers and milk, will accelerate this year—powered by investments in production and technology, industry experts say.


• Sales of plant-based meat, eggs, and dairy will soar in 2021.

• More alternative-protein firms will enter the market.

• Food firms and investors see alternative protein as a safe, sustainable bet.

• Fermentation-derived proteins and cell-grown meat will advance.

The market for plant-based meat in the US reached $939 million in 2019, up 18% from 2018, according to the Good Food Institute, an industry trade group. The investment bank UBS says the global plant-based meat market could be worth $50 billion by 2025.

Plant-based meat has already captured 2% of the US packaged-meat market, though it has yet to make a dent in sales of animal meat, which are growing, data from the US Department of Agriculture show. And the multinational food firms JBS, Nestlé, Tyson Foods, and Unilever have all recently launched or acquired plant-based meat businesses.

Meanwhile, alternative-protein companies such as Impossible Foods, Perfect Day, and Mosa Meat are moving beyond proteins extracted from plants in their quest to more closely mimic the taste and texture of animal meat and dairy. They and dozens of other start-ups are turning to fermentation-derived proteins and bioreactor-grown animal cells.

The field has attracted scores of entrepreneurs with a mission to make the food supply more sustainable. Last year, Marco Graziano founded Final Foods to develop small bioreactors so food businesses and restaurants can make their own animal-free foods. “My idea is to demystify something that now requires biologists, chemists, and engineers to do,” he says.

Investors are also fanning the flames under the animal-free grill. The successful initial public offering of Beyond Meat in 2019 gave institutional and individual investors confidence in the sector, says Patrick Morris, CEO of Eat Beyond Global. Investors in Eat Beyond own shares in a portfolio of companies working in different areas of animal-free food.

This whole evolution of the food industry is just getting started.
Patrick Morris, CEO, Eat Beyond Global

“This whole evolution of the food industry is just getting started, and I think there will be a whole bunch of great companies coming out,” Morris says.

Last month, San Francisco’s Eat Just received approval in Singapore for its nuggets made with cultured chicken cells. “It is a worldwide race when you talk about lab-grown meats,” Morris says. “In 5 to 10 years we’ll look back and say, ‘Wow, I can’t believe how many cows and chickens we ate.’ ”



Contract manufacturers see signs of post-COVID-19 market strength

by Rick Mullin
Credit: Catalent
Vaccine vials being filled on a high-speed line at Catalent’s facility in Bloomington, Indiana


Pharmaceutical contract development and manufacturing organizations (CDMOs) are looking forward to a return to something like business as usual in 2021 as drug development shifts from an intense focus on therapies and vaccines for COVID-19 back to advancing a full pipeline of new drugs.


• Contracts related to COVID-19 vaccines and therapies will keep the pharmaceutical services sector busy.

• A strong pipeline awaits attention as the pandemic eases.

• Strained capacity will motivate investment in production expansion.

The fundamentals of the drug industry appear strong after a year dominated by COVID-19. Statistics reported by the investment firm William Blair, for example, indicate that the late-stage drug pipeline is 17% larger than it was a year ago, and the early-stage pipeline is 25% larger. There are other indications of a return to normal business.

“In 2020, the focus of all clinical trials was really COVID and relief medication,” says Stephan Haitz, president of CDMO sales and marketing at the CDMO Cambrex. He expects 2021 “will come back to normality with clinical trials for all the other diseases, which we will try to address, because they haven’t gone away.”

Lonza will be busy manufacturing messenger RNA for the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Moderna, but it will also see steady growth in its small-molecule chemistry business, says Christian Dowdeswell, head of commercial development for small molecules at the company. Lonza also anticipates a breakthrough in efficient manufacturing technology this year. “We are expecting a drug to be approved which would be commercialized at Lonza using flow chemistry,” Dowdeswell says.

Capacity is very tight at the moment. Nobody is really prepared for this.
Marianne Späne, head of business development, Siegfried

The CDMO Catalent, which is helping produce three vaccines, expects a strong 2021, says Cornell Stamoran, the firm’s vice president of corporate strategy and government affairs. “There is some indication that we’ll have greater-than-previously-forecast R&D spending growth year on year, just to catch up on the non-COVID pipeline.”

Marianne Späne, head of business development at the CDMO Siegfried, sees growth ahead in the kind of finished-drug work the company is doing for the COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech. Like other service firms, Siegfried expanded through acquisition in 2020, and it expects to boost its active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) production capacity this year.

Concern about supply chain security, heightened last year by the pandemic, has many drug companies looking for Western sources of APIs that currently come from China, Späne says. “Capacity is very tight at the moment,” she says. “Nobody is really prepared for this.”



Open-access Plan S goes into effect for many scientists

by Andrea Widener


This year brings big changes for many scientists and scholarly publishers with the implementation of the ambitious open-access effort called Plan S.


• Plan S, the open-access publishing plan led by European research funders, is starting to go into effect.

• Many scholarly publishers are still skeptical about its approach to achieving open access.

• High article publishing charges continue to worry the scientific community.

First announced in September 2018, Plan S requires that scientists supported by participating research funders publish their work only in journals that provide immediate, full open access. It applies to grants awarded starting this month.

Signatories to the plan, a group called cOAlition S, have grown from a dozen primarily European funders, such as the European Commission, to 26 governments and nonprofits, including, most recently, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

“Everybody is aligned. That’s good because it sends a very strong signal that we want publications to be immediate, full open access,” says Johan Rooryck, executive director of cOAlition S. This is the first time a large group of research funders have joined to push for open access, he says. “It is an exciting time.”

But not everyone is happy. From the time Plan S was first unveiled, scientific publishers and some individual researchers have raised concerns about it.

“We all believe in the widening of access to scholarly literature,” says Matt McKay, director of communications for the International Association of Scientific, Technical, and Medical Publishers (STM). (The American Chemical Society, which publishes C&EN, is a member of STM.) But the Plan S requirements are just too inflexible to achieve that goal, he says.

For example, Plan S–compliant research must be published with a liberal copyright that allows anyone to use the publication as long as the person cites the authors.

“This does impact the academic freedom of researchers and their ability to choose the best outlet for their work,” McKay says.

cOAlition S has made some changes since Plan S was first proposed. It pushed back the start date from 2020 to 2021. Also, the plan originally prohibited publishing in hybrid journals—subscription-based journals that allow authors to pay a fee for their articles to be available immediately. Scientists now can publish in such journals if the publisher agrees to release the work under a liberal copyright.

Plan S has already precipitated changes in publishing. Some publishers have agreed to transition from subscription-based journals to fully open-access publishing. The biggest is Springer Nature, which has agreed to transition most of its 3,000 journals. Others, including ACS, are creating a new slate of Plan S–compliant journals. ACS also announced in December 2020 that its open-access papers will be published under a more liberal copyright.

One question that remains is who pays for publishing. Plan S necessitates a transition away from the traditional subscription-based system for journal publishing to a new model. Many journals have moved to a fee-based system in which scientists or their funders pay an article processing charge (APC) when their article is published. That approach has led to concern that early-career scientists, those in developing countries, or others who might not be able to afford the charge would be at a disadvantage.

For now, the cOAlition S funders have agreed to pay APCs, but Rooryck says they plan to look more closely at what those charges include. Publishers’ fees often reflect the high costs of producing journals, he says, but he hopes that new models emerge that don’t disadvantage scientists who can’t pay high fees.

You can’t expect a scientist in a developing country “to spend a year’s salary on an APC in a prestigious title,” Rooryck says. “That is not reasonable and not necessary, either.”

Pay to publish

With immediate open access comes a shift in funding model—authors will need to pay to publish articles rather than readers paying to access through subscriptions or individual article fees.

ACS Central Science American Chemical Society Full $1,000
Angewandte Chemie International Edition Wiley for the German Chemical Society Hybrid $5,000
Cell Reports Physical Science Cell Press, part of Elsevier Full $5,200
Chem Cell Press, part of Elsevier Hybrid $5,200
ChemComm Royal Society of Chemistry Hybrid $2,150a
Chemical Science Royal Society of Chemistry Full $0
Chinese Chemical Letters Elsevier for the Chinese Chemical Society Full $300b
JACS Au American Chemical Society Full $5,000
Journal of the American Chemical Society American Chemical Society Hybrid $5,000
Nature Springer Nature Hybrid $11,390
Nature Chemistry Springer Nature Hybrid $11,390
Nature Communications Springer Nature Full $5,560
PLOS Biology PLOS Full $3,000
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America National Academy of Sciences Hybrid $4,700
Science Advances American Association for the Advancement of Science Full $4,500
Science China Chemistry Science China Press and Springer Nature Hybrid $3,860

JOURNAL: ACS Central Science

PUBLISHER: American Chemical Society



JOURNAL: Angewandte Chemie International Edition

PUBLISHER: Wiley for the German ChemicalSociety



JOURNAL: Cell Reports Physical Science

PUBLISHER: Cell Press, part of Elsevier




PUBLISHER: Cell Press, part of Elsevier




PUBLISHER: Royal Society of Chemistry



JOURNAL: Chemical Science

PUBLISHER: Royal Society of Chemistry



JOURNAL: Chinese Chemical Letters

PUBLISHER: Elsevier for the Chinese Chemical Society




PUBLISHER: American Chemical Society



JOURNAL: Journal of the American Chemical Society

PUBLISHER: American Chemical Society




PUBLISHER: Springer Nature



JOURNAL: Nature Chemistry

PUBLISHER: Springer Nature



JOURNAL: Nature Communications

PUBLISHER: Springer Nature







JOURNAL: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

PUBLISHER: National Academy of Sciences



JOURNAL: Science Advances

PUBLISHER: American Association for the Advancement of Science



JOURNAL: Science China Chemistry

PUBLISHER: Science China Press and Springer Nature



Sources: Publishers.
Note: Hybrid journals are subscription-based but allow authors to pay for articles to be open access immediately upon publication. Processing charges were obtained from journal websites Dec. 21, 2020, and are for immediate open access with the most liberal copyright license. They do not include any discounts, such as with promotions, society memberships, subscriptions, or waivers.
a Converted from £1,600 to US dollars at the Dec. 21, 2020, exchange rate of £1.00 = $1.35.
b Converted from ¥2,000 to US dollars at the Dec. 21, 2020, exchange rate of ¥1.00 = $0.15.


The "Pay to publish" table was updated on April 1, 2021, to change the article processing charge of Chemical Science. That amount is $0, not $2,150.


The "Pay to Publish" table was updated on April 1, 2021, to include information for ACS Central Science.


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