Vision for Chemicals in Grangemouth

07.12.2017 -

Grangemouth, Scotland, home to now-Swiss olefins and polyolefins giant Ineos and before that a base for British oil multinational BP, has had a mixed relationship with chemicals since the industry took root there in the 1960s. More recently, however, authorities in the town and neighboring Falkirk have decided that the best route to preserving growth in the region is to expand industry.

Chemical Sciences Scotland (CSS), an organization dedicated to facilitating partnerships and collaborations in science and industry, together with Scottish Enterprise, whose mission is to promote business in Scotland, and the town of Falkirk’s Council recently published a paper called The Future of Grangemouth Vision 2025, detailing what its backers think could and should be done to support new industrial development.

Presenting the paper to the Scottish Parliament last week, Tom Shields, acting chairman of CSS Industry Leadership Group, called the Grangemouth vision “a major milestone” for the chemicals and sciences sectors.” Grangemouth is a globally competitive manufacturing cluster so it’s important we develop these plans to ensure a sustainable future for the hub as well as develop and maximize the opportunity it offers to both Scotland and the UK,” Shields said.

Scottish minister for business, innovation and energy, Paul Wheelhouse, said the partnership’s goal is to bring 2,900 additional jobs to the region, generating more than £150 million of additional economic activity for the Scottish economy and driving international competitiveness for Scotland’s manufacturing sector.

Angus MacDonald, a member of the Scottish Parliament for the area, praised the organizations’ “ambitious vision of turning Grangemouth into a key European hub for sustainable, high-value chemical manufacturing.”

The local strategy also dovetails with Ineos’ vision for its own over-dimensioned production complex, which it had toyed with turning into a chemical park. A £450 million “survival plan” drawn up in the aftermath of the bitter 2013 dispute with the trade union Unite “demonstrates Ineos' commitment to the Grangemouth site, its employees and the local economy," Olefins and Polymers CEO John McNally said at the time. 

“Grangemouth is undergoing a radical transformation with significant investment that will herald a new era in petrochemical manufacturing,” the executive added. Apart from the dredging of the harbor to accommodate ships bearing liquefied ethane import from the US shale fields and the construction of a new headquarters building, little transformation seems to have taken place, however.   

In any case, relations between the chemical giant and the local population – many of whom work in the chemical industry – have not always been harmonious, not least since the labor dispute. More recently, the Falkirk Council has locked horns with Ineos over the company’s application to close an important commuter route that runs through its complex.

But petrochemicals are not the only science topic game in Scotland, where many thousands of jobs were lost to the deindustrialization policy of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the subsequent downsizing of the chemical industry.

Though high-tech sectors will never create as many jobs as refineries and crackers, Scottish Enterprise has been fairly successful in attracting other types of science to the area, with many of the new companies focusing on innovation – from water treatment to sustainable food or pharmaceutical R&D.

According to CSS, Scotland already has a comprehensive pharmaceutical services supply chain, with over 150 companies providing outsourcing solutions in therapy, device development and manufacture, for example. The country also has many projects devoted to pharmaceutical research and drug discovery operations, including two innovation centers focusing on continuous manufacturing and industrial biotechnology.