Insights in India's Chemical Industry Tata Chemicals: A Scientific Approach to Sustainability

Author / Editor: Marcilin Madathil / Dominik Stephan

Celebrating 75 years of presence, Tata Chemicals has made its mark globally by being a pioneering force in developing products to meet the changing customer demands. True to its motto ‘Serving Society through Science’, it has touched the lives of millions by offering them Living, Industrial and Farm Essentials (LIFE).

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The Mithapur plant of Tata Chemicals
The Mithapur plant of Tata Chemicals
(Picture: Tata Chemicals)

With humble beginnings in Mithapur, Gujarat, today Tata Chemicals is a global company with operations spanning North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. It has always aimed at harnessing the fruits of science for goals that go beyond business. By ensuring high-quality products and pursuing ethical practices, the organization has strengthened the bond with its stakeholders and sustained the faith since its inception.

Managing Director, Tata Chemicals, R Mukundan states with pride, “Tata Chemicals is a 75-year-old ‘young’ organization and the journey has indeed been long, fruitful and enriching. While some enterprises grow vertically and others horizontally, it has achieved both and has positioned itself as a provider of solutions that address tomorrow‘s food, water, health, and climate-change challenges. Innovative thinking, resilience and commitment to society and environment have enabled the company to emerge stronger amid challenges.”

Serving Society Through Science

The company has played a significant part in improving the country‘s nutritional wellbeing by offering iodized and fortified salts, unpolished dals and safe drinking water. “The introduction of the I-Shakti brand of unpolished dals and besan from the ‘Living Essentials’ portfolio; manufacturing of urea and phosphatic fertilizers from the ‘Farm Essentials’ portfolio; production of soda ash and sodium bicarbonate from the ‘Industry Essentials’ portfolio have helped it carve a niche as a global chemical giant. The water purifier, Tata Swach, uses natural materials and nanotechnology to provide affordable drinking water,” he notes.

R&D and Innovation

The company strongly emphasizes on resource optimization by undertaking R&D initiatives and applying scientific expertise in an effort to develop a sustainable product portfolio. Against this backdrop, the Innovation Center in Pune was set up in 2004 to focus on the areas of food and fuel; energy and environment; and water and wellness (FEW). The research activities at the center encompass the fields of advanced materials, green chemistry and nutraceuticals. The researchers are also exploring technologies to mitigate climate change through green chemistry.

The company has commissioned a nutraceuticals center in Chennai; this 300-ton per annum plant will produce nutraceuticals such as probiotics and polyols, which will be used by food and pharma companies. The Center for Agriculture and Technology (CAT) has been set up in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh to advise farmers on farming and crop nutrition practices and solutions. It engages in the development of customized fertilizers that yield better results as they are designed for specific crop and soil requirements. CAT provides a competitive advantage to the company by providing a strong base for its customized fertilizer business, specialty crop nutrients business and agri-business.

Green Chemistry and Sustainability

With environmental alarms constantly being raised, the concept of green chemistry is an ideal initiative for the chemical industry. Mukundan observes, “India accounts for 3 per cent of the global chemicals market and is responsible for almost 20 per cent of global effluents. Hence, it is important for chemical engineers and research scientists to design materials that would curb the release of toxic chemicals into the environment and enable sustainable development.”

In this context, Tata Chemicals has upgraded its technologies for effluent treatment and has imbibed sustainable practices in its operations. He further states, “Green chemistry is here to stay and favorable to chemical manufacturing companies. The green approach will propel the Indian chemical industry to greater heights.”

Commited to Sustainable Business

Since the organization is committed to a sustainable way of doing business, it has initiated several programs on climate change and environment protection, besides constantly striving to improve its ecological footprint with a policy of ‘avoid, reduce and reuse’. “It has embarked on a program to reduce its carbon footprint by 20 per cent by 2020. With the growing need for climate change mitigation, it has invested in the development of bio-fuels such as bio-diesel and bio-ethanol to reduce environmental impact,” he affirms.

This is not all; the company has been exploring many other avenues to attain environmental goals. The setting up of a non-governmental organization in 1980 – Tata Chemicals Society for Rural Development (TCSRD) that works towards holistic community development and conservation of environmental resources – is an example. At the Mithapur plant, it has introduced the state-of-the-art water management technology that recycles wastewater for operational purposes. This has significantly reduced the plant’s dependence on the scarce groundwater resources.

Safety and Health Aspects

By adhering to world safety standards, promoting product and operational safety and encouraging active participation of every employee, the company has created a healthy work environment that complements its superior product line. It invests a large amount of resources to minimize workplace accidents. “The 5-star rating from the British Safety Council indicates that employees have incorporated the concept of behavior-based safety, and safe working has become a way of life,“ asserts Mukundan. All its plants are certified with ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001.

Scaling new Heights

Having achieved the leadership position in inorganic chemicals, primarily soda ash, Tata Chemicals plans to concentrate on farm and consumer-facing businesses. The focus with regard to the latter will be on consumer products as the Indian consumer is moving from loose to branded packaged products across all categories. In the next five to ten years, it aims at introducing wellness and health products under the nutraceuticals brand such as oligosaccharides, sweeteners and anti-obesity products through green manufacturing.

According to Mukundan, the growth drivers will be the changing needs of Indian consumers and farmers. Hence, it is pivotal to build significant capabilities by leveraging consumer and farmer reach, besides focusing on innovation-led products. The company is focusing on developing a new range of green products that can be a third stream of offerings, outside soda ash and fertilizers.

The Way Forward

The demand for soda ash is expected to grow in India with consumers moving towards value-added and sophisticated products. Mukundan concludes, “The demand for soda ash is improving gradually and is estimated to grow by 3-4 per cent in the coming fiscal year. The demand from the glass segment is also expected to increase by 6-7 per cent on account of urbanization. India will need 120,000 to 200,000 tons of additional soda ash every year, and this number will rise to 300,000 tons, going forward. With regard to the ‘Farm Essentials’ business, the demand for specialty, organic fertilizers, etc., is likely to rise by 10-12 per cent.”

* The author is Chief Copy Editor of Vogel Business Media India