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Implementation of New Technologies
New technologies are an imperative to industrial growth, but innovation of technology does not guarantee its implementation in the industry. Bipin Vora, Consultant & R&D Advisor, UOP LLC, A Honeywell Company, shares his views and opinions regarding the introduction and implementation of new technologies in the industrial world.

Which decades have seen the fastest growth in commercialization of new technologies in the past and what were the growth drivers?
The "fastest growth decade" varies for different industrial sectors. If we are talking of petroleum refining, probably the fastest growth period was the 1940s and 1950s, when most of the primary refining technologies, like fluid catalytic cracking (FCC), hydrotreating, hydrocracking, naphtha reforming etc. were developed. For the petrochemical sector, the 1960s and 1970s saw the fastest growth. The 1990s was the decade for information technology.

Although advancement in technology is an imperative in current business environment what are the main obstacles in commercialization of new technologies?
The current financial environment has made business leaders more risk averse. It is difficult to get financing for a project involving new technology, unless each and every step of the new technology is fully demonstrated at a reasonable production capacity.
Most clients do not wish to be the first in trying out new technologies. New technology commercialisation needs entrepreneurs.

What are the various stages from conceptualization till the implementation of any new process technology has to go through?
From concept to commercialization is a long and tortuous path. The major steps are:
(a) Proof of principle of the chemistry in laboratory equipment
(b) Development of conceptual flow diagram, techno-economic assessment and, if favorable, followed by a design and construction of a pilot plant
(c) Pilot plant operation demonstrating all major features of the process and collection of data for scale-up and design of a commercial plant.
(d) Frequently revisiting the techno-economic assessment, including safety, and hazard analysis.

At this point, depending upon the complexity of the process, one may directly go to the design of a first commercial unit, followed by its construction and start-up, or go to the design of a large demonstration unit, followed by its construction and start-up, in order to prove all the new features in reasonably sized equipment before proceeding to the design of a large commercial unit.

How can having user as a partner reduce the time to commercialise a technology?
A partner has much better understanding of the risk-reward of the technology. A partner also has vested interest to capitalise on the money spent on development. The technical staff from the partner’s organisation participating in the development would be involved all along to get the management buy-in.

What role can regulations help in spurring technology growth?
The role regulations play can be both, positive or negative; some may spur the technology development and growth while others may hinder it. For example, regulations that can clearly quantify the benefits to society, such as health and safety, would spur the growth. A clear example is the recent moandates by some Governments that certain percentage of future energy growth must be based on renewable sources.
This move has significantly increased technology growth in the areas of wind, solar and bio energy production. On the other hand, a regulation that is meant to protect certain local business (export-import type), may help local business for the short run but on the whole, it hinders growth.

How do you compare the private vis-ŕ-vis government ownership in process of commercialization of technologies?
When there is a clear-cut economic advantage in a new development, the private sector usually moves faster, as the project approval process is relatively quicker in the private sector. On the other hand, for a technology that is marginal, or not profitable under current economic parameters, but may be of significant value to society, government ownership may be of significant assistance. An example could be the development of renewable energy. A government-owned company may have a lower ROI target than a company in the private sector. Government financing may also be provided at a lower interest rate.

How can both these sectors work together towards development, commercialization & implementation of new technologies?
In case of areas important on a long-term basis for society as a whole, such as bio-fuel, solar power, or areas of significant medical advances, government can fund R&D while work is done in the private sector.

What would be the future trends in technological innovations?
The prospects in general are good. It is difficult to identify future growth prospects but there appears to be a lot of potential in the development of “nano” technologies in the catalytic sector. Another area of great interest is the application of biological growth principles in the development and manufacture of highly-targeted pharmaceutical active ingredients. In the petrochemical sector, a major area of growth is in the utilisation of lower-cost alternative feed-stocks (for example, the manufacture of olefins from coal or remote natural gas, possibly via a methanol intermediate).