Essential Chemistry

Inch Magazine

Essential Chemistry

A worldwide war is on to kill humanity’s newest and most feared enemy: the coronavirus. And there is one industry which can supply the ammunition that will defeat it: it is the chemical industry.
APRIL 2020

Production has been ramped up at INEOS' sites to cope with the unprecedented, global demand for chemicals to slow the spread of COVID-19 and help treat those infected. INEOS is now working round-the-clock.

It has diverted resources away from non-essential work at sites in America, mainland Europe and the UK to keep the flow of essential chemicals to those making vital medical materials, disinfectants and equipment.

“We have never experienced demand for products that support health and hygiene like this,” said INEOS’ Group Communications Director Tom Crotty.

But INEOS took early steps to protect its staff. It was concerned that its businesses, those which provide the raw materials to run the plants and the hauliers, could continue to run through the pandemic.

“Health workers are key but so are we,” said Roger Mottram, Environmental & Regulatory Affairs Manager for INOVYN, an INEOS business.

“If our production is stopped, so is the production of protective gloves, antiseptic wipes, hand gels, syringes, drips and more. Health workers won’t have protection or equipment to work with. The knock-on effect of that would be catastrophic.”

In Germany, INEOS’ plants are running at full capacity to produce isopropyl alcohol - one of the two core ingredients in antiseptic hand sanitiser.

Ethanol from its plants in Grangemouth (UK), Herne (Germany and Lavera (France) will supply the other crucial ingredient. “We are looking to redirect additional production to address the current shortage,” said Tom. “But we have to be careful not to risk the reliability of either plant. Our responsibility and our focus is to ensure our plants remain operational.”

In under 10 days INEOS has built three new hand sanitiser plants to directly produce, bottle and distribute three million bottles a month of hand sanitiser. It will give these to the NHS and hospitals free of charge.

“I am extremely proud of the INEOS team who have built these major production facilities in literally a few days,” said INEOS Chairman Sir Jim Ratcliffe. “I believe these hand sanitisers will play a key role in the fight against the coronavirus and will help protect our NHS frontline staff who deserve all the help we can give them.”

At INOVYN across Europe, the INEOS-owned plants are running continuously to produce sodium hypochlorite, which we all know as household bleach.

Again, it is needed now more than ever after it was recognised by the World Health Organisation and UNICEF as the best and quickest way to kill COVID-19 on hard surfaces.

CEFIC, the voice of the chemical industry in Europe, said it was being asked daily by governments about possible shortages.

“Despite the difficulties, the chemical industry is showing its many strengths, in supplying critical chemicals into medical, health, environmental and food supply chains,” said Cefic president Daniele Ferrari.

“Our industry is part of the fabric that will keep society running.”

The demand for single-use plastics to control the spread of infection is also recognised more than ever.

Hospitals desperately need PVC IV bags, blood bags, protective face masks, gloves, ventilators, aprons, goggles, surgical gowns, nasal cannulas and medical tubing.

“We are doing everything we can and more,” said Roger. “We know our products are essential to help control the spread of this disease and protect people’s health.”

From basic chlor-alkali chemicals that are used to make soap to phenol used to produce aspirin and paracetamol, to the acetonitrile that being used in pharmaceutical analysis essential in procedures necessary to find a vaccine, INEOS products are playing an essential role.

Countries are also concerned about protecting their drinking water supplies.

In the US, utilities companies require INEOS’ acrylamide and polyacrylamide to purify America’s water.

And UK water companies have also contacted INEOS, which provides the chlorine necessary to keep 98% of Britain’s water safe to drink.

“We have reassured them that we have the necessary contingency plans in place to continue supplying these vital chemicals,” said Tom.

The Malaysian government recently ordered the closure of most of its industries.

But one of INEOS’ biggest customers has been instructed to remain operational because it produces nitrile rubber for surgical rubber gloves needed in hospitals.

Plastic packaging – known to keep food fresher for longer – is now coming into its own as the public have been told to stay at home. Fewer trips to the supermarket means food has to last longer.

INEOS is working closely with governments across the countries it operates.

It is providing them and the European Commission with confidential information about its production capabilities and whether it can guarantee that supply.

“They want to make sure that there are enough disinfectants available to help slow the spread of COVID-19,” said Roger.

INEOS has imposed strict measures across the company to protect its own staff from the virus, which has so far killed many thousands of people across the world.

All office-based staff have been told to work from home where they can, all non-essential travel has been stopped and all non-essential maintenance on plant has been redirected to plants that are essential.

“By doing this we can keep our people safe and ensure the continued operation of our plants and businesses through the coming weeks and months,” said Sir Jim.

INEOS is the world’s third-largest chemical company and employs 22,000 people at 186 sites in 26 countries, including China where the virus originated.

INEOS produces chemicals that are used to produce retro/antivirals, antibiotics, steroids, anti-inflammatories, paracetamol/aspirin and the reagent chemicals used in COVID-19 testing kits. It also produces the plastics going into medical equipment, face masks, ventilators, sterile gloves, eye visors, respiratory care tubing. The list goes on and on...

Retroviral/steroids drug synthesis building block & CV19 testing reagent
Acetonitrile, INEOS Nitriles

Respiratory care & intubation tubing
PVC Compounds, INEOS Enterprises

Antibiotic production solvent
Methyl Glycol Ether, INEOS Oxide

Blood/plasma bags & vessels for dialysis

Airway management devices & oxygen masks
PP, INEOS O&P Europe

Ventilator joints/valves/casing
ABS, INEOS Styrolution

Self-sealing infusion bags septums
PAO - Feluy, INEOS Oligomers

Non-woven polymers for face masks & protective clothing
PP - Carson, INEOS O&P USA

Active reagent in insulin & vitamin production
Acetone - Mobile, INEOS Phenol

Antimicrobial Medical ward panels
INEOS Composites

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