The market of organic chemicals used as key ingredients in the production of hand sanitisers, medicines, foods, cosmetics, dyes and soft drinks has grown into a size of around Tk8,000 crore in the country. Demand for such chemical made products, especially health safety items, has increased during the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to the Office of the Chief Controller of Imports and Exports, Bangladesh imports organic chemicals worth Tk6,192 crore and export of these products is to the tune of Tk877.20 crore.
In fiscal year 2019-2020, the country imported organic chemicals worth $665 million from different countries and exported chemicals worth $61 million.
However, in 2020-21, when the pandemic hit the country, the amount of organic chemicals import increased to $720 million and export increased to $86 million.
According to people concerned, Ethyl alcohol or rectified spirit is the most widely used organic chemical in Bangladesh. Other organic chemicals used in Bangladesh include carbohydrates, hydrocarbons, sulfur, benzene, phenol, phthalic anhydride, etc.
An official of the Bangladesh Council of Science and Industry (BCSIR) said that in scientific terms the chemicals that contain oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur and phosphorus are called organic chemicals. These chemicals are used in the production of various everyday products.
Chemicals that can be used directly in the production of a product without mixing them with any other chemical are considered organic chemicals.
"More than 100 types of chemicals are imported by Bangladesh, of which 11 are organic chemicals. There are also about 47 companies in Bangladesh that produce these chemicals," said Sohail Hossain, owner of Ancient Chemicals Ltd and president of the Chemical Importers-Exporters Association.
Extensive use of ethyl alcohol
Md Hemayet Hossain, principal scientific officer, Chemical Research Division of Bangladesh Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (BCSIR), said, "The use of ethyl alcohol as a key ingredient in hand sanitisers and disinfectants is on the rise."
According to Chemical Importers-Exporters Association, of the Tk8,000 crore market for organic chemicals in Bangladesh, ethyl alcohol is worth Tk3,500 crore. "Demand for this chemical has grown significantly as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic," said Sohail Hossain, the president of the association.
"Several companies in Bangladesh, including Carew & Co, BMS Trade Communication, Four Ace Corporation produce various organic chemicals, including alcohol, sulfur, nitrous and carbon. Only Carew & Co makes alcohol under its own management. Besides, 23 companies import raw materials from 10 countries, including Brazil and Argentina, to produce alcohol," he said.
However, he added that the Netherlands imports 50% of the alcohol of their market from Bangladesh.
Alcohol is also a very important ingredient in making homeopathic medicine in the country.
Dr Nuruzzoha, president of Bangladesh Homeopathic Medicine Manufacturers' Association, said, "Alcohol or rectified spirit worth about Tk600 crore is used in the preparation of homeopathic medicines every year."
Tasnim Chemical, a concern of Meghna Group, produces a number of chemicals, including sulfur, nitrous and carbon. An official of the company said that they import raw materials from Japan, Korea, China, Pakistan and the United States to produce these chemicals.
Carbon is another key organic chemical that is used in the production of carbonated beverages in the country.
Sardar Hossain Ali, proprietor of Alam Chemical Trading, the largest business house at Mitford Wholesale Chemical Market, told The Business Standard, "Carbon worth about Tk1,200 crore is imported every year."
In addition, four companies of the country, Meghna Group, Tasnim Chemical, Meximco Limited, Fariza Trade International locally produce and market carbon worth Tk 100 crore, he added.
Sulfur and nitrous are used in the manufacture of various medicines such as cough medicines, sleeping pills and allergenic medicines.
"The use of these two chemicals and a few other organic chemicals is also essential in the manufacture of cosmetic products," said Md Hemayet Hossain, principal scientific officer, Chemical Research Division, Bangladesh Council of Science and Industry Research (BCSIR).
SM Shafiuzzaman, general secretary, Bangladesh Association of Pharmaceutical Industries and managing director of Hudson Pharmaceuticals Ltd, said, "Organic chemicals worth about Tk4,000 crore are used in the chemical industry every year."
However, cosmetics and toiletries manufacturers use organic chemicals worth about Tk1,000 crore every year along with other chemicals.
Md Rezaul Karim, president of Bangladesh Cosmetics and Toiletries Manufacturers Association, said, "Now that the market for cosmetics and toiletries is slowly growing, the demand for organic chemicals is also increasing in this sector."
With the organic chemical market in Bangladesh booming, a few more local and foreign companies will be investing in this sector. Among the foreign companies is the German company Siegwerk, which has already begun the process of investment in this sector.
An official from Siegwerk said, "The legal process is almost complete. Land inspection is going on in Rupganj of Narayanganj. It is possible to go into production by the middle of 2023."
In addition, SR Chemical Ltd, a domestic company, has already invested around Tk200 crore. It has already completed the construction of the infrastructure. An official of the company said that it will go into production at the beginning of next year.
Experts say there is a huge potential in the production of organic chemicals in the country as the market has been expanding fast.
Professor Dr Md Shakhawat Hossain Firoz, chairman of the Department of Chemistry, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet), said, "We have a huge alcohol market. But we produce only 8% of the demand. The rest is imported from abroad. But it is possible to meet demand by producing alcohol and other organic chemicals in Bangladesh."
He added, "If we can use the sugar mills of the country, which count losses every year, to produce alcohol, we wouldn't have to be import dependent for this product."
The Chairman of Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation, Shah Mohammad Imdadul Haque, said, "There is a market of chemicals worth around Tk20,000 crore in the country now. But the market is mostly import dependent."
He said, "The government is sincere about increasing domestic production capacity. If local entrepreneurs come forward, it is possible to expand production of these chemicals in the country."