Defining the new Essentials

The essentials of life have changed. Fortunately, new technologies—powered by chemistry—will emerge in parallel to help deliver these new essentials responsibly.

A bus makes a distinctive sound: a chugging diesel clatter overlaid with a turbine-like whine. You’ll hear it in big cities, unless, of course, you travel to China, and especially to the city of Shenzhen.

This urban center’s 12 million inhabitants can take advantage of an almost 100% electrified bus network1, which makes up a small but significant fraction of China’s nearly 400,000-strong fleet of electric buses2, 3. This is a big step toward decarbonizing transportation, but it is also a leading indicator of how the basics of modern life will evolve.

Of course, the fundamentals we need for survival are what they’ve always been—food, clothing, and shelter—but in today’s society, many of us feel the pull toward a new set of essentials. Thriving today requires new technologies that make a significant difference in how we lead our lives. Billions already live in cities, and more are moving there every day. Those cities are expanding their smart infrastructure to make urban dwelling more efficient. No matter where we live, refrigeration greatly expands the quality of our diets, while ubiquitous connectivity links us to a larger world. The next generation of transportation will take us places with greater ease and with fewer emissions. The same is true of the goods we move. Those of us in warm areas, especially those that are getting warmer every day, depend on air conditioning, and all of us need energy. These are the new essentials, and balancing them with our responsibility to the planet is the urgent task of the next few decades, particularly for the chemistry industry.

1 Source: Prosser, Mark. “China’s Electric Buses Save More Diesel Than All Electric Cars Combined.” Singularity Hub, 16 Apr. 2019,
2 Source: Nightingale, Alaric. “Forget Tesla, It’s China’s E-Buses That Are Denting Oil Demand.” Bloomberg NEF, 25 Mar. 2019,
3 Source: Fehrenbacher, Katie. “China’s Electric Bus Leadership.” GreenBiz, 16 Apr. 2019,
4 Source: “Consumer Expenditures—2017.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 13 Sept. 2018,
5 Source: Campbell, Iain, et al. Solving the Global Cooling Challenge: How to Counter the Climate Threat from Room Air Conditioners. Rocky Mountain Institute, 2019, 2018.pdf.
6 Source: “World Outlook 2018 Examines Future Patters of Global Energy System at a Time of Increasing Uncertainties”, International Energy Agency, 13 November 2018,