Sustainable, Modular Chemical Production in Africa | AIChE

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Sustainable, Modular Chemical Production in Africa


Modular chemical process intensification (MCPI) has a unique role to play in the developing world. It can provide a means for sustainable and inclusive chemical manufacturing that reduces reliance on limited natural resources and promotes better productivity. It offers a way to leverage resources and circumvent cost barriers in the development of more efficient chemical production processes. By implementing MCPI and advanced manufacturing techniques, developing countries have the opportunity to bypass older, traditional technologies and take a different trajectory and approach to chemicals production.

This article focuses on the application of MCPI in Africa. However, these same benefits could be realized in other constrained areas. The article discusses early successes in modular chemical manufacturing in the developing world that demonstrate the benefits of smaller, decentralized, and sustainable systems.

The concept of bypassing old technologies and adopting new, better tools is often referred to as leapfrogging. For example, over the past decade, hundreds of millions of Africans gained the ability to make phone calls and send text messages via mobile phones, often in areas where landlines were never installed. The spread of mobile phones demonstrates the benefits of leapfrogging — rural areas of developing countries bypassed 20th-century landline technology in favor of 21st-century cellular technology. In some cases, the penetration of mobile phones has even outpaced that of electricity; for example, 59% of Kenyans have mobile phones while less than a quarter have access to electricity (1).

Many places on the continent avoided the installation of landline infrastructure and telephone-switching equipment. In the process, access to phone and internet service was democratized, sidestepping state-run, monopolistic phone companies. Leapfrogging the old phone technology rippled into other aspects of life; for example, mobile payment apps gave banking capabilities to many Africans who otherwise would not have had access to a traditional bank account.

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