Canada needs more chemistry
September 28, 2016
Bold leadership is needed to attract and win new investments
The flurry of consultations by various departments over the past summer was a clear indication that the Government of Canada is focussing on low carbon, innovative, economic growth.
An effective innovation strategy should foster the development of products, services and industries that can best capitalize on the natural resources and talent that already exist in our country. The chemistry industry is well positioned to deliver on these expectations, if Canada can build and maintain a competitive, long-term investment environment.
Written off as a mature industry decades ago, North America’s chemistry industry has experienced a dramatic resurgence following the advent of abundant, low-carbon feedstock associated with the shale gas revolution. Today, more than 270 projects are being tracked totalling over $250 billion in new investments, with more than 600 additional investments in the downstream plastics sector. This makes chemistry the fastest growing manufacturing sector in North America and the poster child for reshoring manufacturing.
This new feedstock means chemistry facilities can operate with half the energy demand and half the greenhouse gas emissions compared to older facilities fuelled by crude oil. Moreover, compared to coal-fed chemistry processes in China, this abundant and advantageously priced feedstock provides a ten to one energy and greenhouse gas advantage – to make the same finished product. The economic and environmental advantages of shale gas feedstocks are so great that European chemistry operations are now being retrofitted to receive feedstocks imported from North America.
This rapid re-tooling and expansion is a testament to the industry’s commitment to innovation, to adopting cutting-edge technologies, and to the reduction of carbon emissions. Other factors reinforce this view.
It is not a widely appreciated that more than 95 per cent of all products manufactured today rely on chemistry. Addressing the challenges of clean energy, air and water, and a sufficient supply of safe and nutritious food on a global scale is entirely dependent on chemistry-based solutions. From improved building insulation to lighter plastics for automobiles, and the production of solar and wind energy equipment, innovative chemistry products and processes are essential in helping society meet its needs while reducing its carbon emissions.
While there have been some important investments in recent years in Ontario, and Alberta is poised to attract additional investments, Canada has not kept pace with growth in the U.S. Based on historical patterns, Canada should have attracted $25 billion of new investment. Instead, only about one tenth of that has found its way here.
The good news is Canada is at least making the short lists for companies considering North American investments. Canada has market and feedstock access and has taken some measures to improve the country’s fiscal competitiveness with the 10-year extension of the accelerated capital cost allowance and lowering corporate tax rates. But, more is needed to create the winning conditions for investments. In the end, it is a winner takes all game.
By recognizing opportunities, partnering closely with the provinces and working to further strengthen the country’s investment climate, Canada can position itself as a destination of choice for sustainable investments.