Natural gas has had a dramatic effect on the US chemical industry. However, a recently-released report by PricewaterhouseCoopers indicates that the biggest headwinds to impact on the US chemical industry are likely to come from changing societal preferences and widespread technological innovations. These changes will take place over a period of 10-15 years during which time major disruptions to the existing US chemical industry will occur. Foremost among the challenges facing the US chemical industry are shifting preferences among consumers to a more eco-friendly approach to chemical industry activity. There is also a paradigm shift in the expectations of US consumers; now, after-sales service is becoming increasingly important.
There is evidence to suggest that shareholders are going to play a vital role in shaping the present and the future of chemical industry operations. This is particularly true of activist shareholders. Stakeholders in the US chemical industry are increasingly looking towards regulations to ensure that oil fracking is as safe as it can be on the environment. As more fracking operations begin to drill for natural gas, so too have we seen a substantial uptick in the growth of the US chemical industry. The industry could be further impacted by the imposition of additional regulations on fracking activity however. There is a concern that the interconnectedness between the chemical industry and the energy sector could diminish greatly if other countries begin promoting the development of non-shale/shale feedstock sources as well as products from biomass.
As it stands, the North American continent is characterized by massive investment in feedstock, but if a worldwide race develops among chemical companies that are not limited by logistics or cost considerations, both European chemical supplies and US chemical suppliers will be hamstrung. The PricewaterhouseCoopers report urged US chemical companies to reassess their position vis-a-vis current market conditions, sources of materials and flexibility of operations. This report was designed expressly to prevent chemical companies from being wrong-footed when disruption comes into play.
The changing consumer preferences are evident in the PricewaterhouseCoopers Global Chemicals Report which polled different demographics including the following:
• 9% of Generations Z customers are willing to pay a premium for sustainable products/services
• 51% of Millennials are willing to pay a premium for sustainable products/services
• 25% of Generation Xers are willing to pay a premium for sustainable products/services
• 12% of Baby Boomers are willing to pay a premium for eco-friendly products
• 3% of the Silent Generation is willing to pay a premium for sustainable products and services
However the biggest change coming to the US chemical industry is likely to emanate from 3D printing. In 2015 the 3D printer industry generated $4.1 billion, in 2016 it is forecast to generate $7.3 billion; in 2018 it is forecast to grow to $12.7 billion and by 2020 the 3D printing market is likely to be worth $21.2 billion.