The study entitled “Low carbon energy and feedstock for the European chemical industry” examines the technological options and possible developmental scenarios on the way to a climatically neutral yet competitive European chemical industry up to the year 2050. The main focus of the study is on the principal platform chemicals which are produced in large amounts at the beginning of the value chain (ammonia, methanol, ethylene, propylene, chlorine and the aromatic compounds benzene, toluene, and xylene) and which are responsible for about 2/3 of all greenhouse gas emissions arising from the chemical industry.
Technologies Are Already Available for Reducing CO2 Emissions
Marco Mensink, Cefic Director General, said: “Many promising low-carbon technologies are available at a relatively advanced stage of development. The industry will need to find the way to overcome the investment, raw material and energy challenges for them to be implemented on a large scale in Europe.” Kurt Wagemann, Executive Director of Dechema said: “The implementation of the technologies investigated in this study would allow for a very significant reduction of CO2 emissions of the chemical industry by 2050 even under the least ambitious scenario.”
The study analyses the technological options available for the chemical industry and outlines the conditions necessary to facilitate the transition of the European chemical industry to carbon neutrality. It provides a first full overview of all available technologies for the main chemical production processes and describes what is needed to refurbish the industrial base we know today in Europe, in a world full of shale gas and low oil prices.
Cheap Electricity and Redoubled Research Efforts Essential
Essential prerequisites will be abundant low-carbon electricity in much larger volumes and at competitive prices as well as:
- Availability of alternative feedstocks (such as bio-based raw materials, carbon dioxide, or industrial waste gases);
- A enabling fiscal structure to modernise ageing production facilities and equipment or build new plants;
- Government or public-private support to scale-up technologies and share investment risk for those technologies that are first of a kind or high risk;
- Innovation and research into new chemical technologies that help overcome existing challenges;
- Enabling business models to enhance cross-sectoral collaboration to find sustainable ways to re-use carbon dioxide.
The chemical industry has already halved its energy intensity and greenhouse gas emissions since 1990, but producing chemicals remains one of the most energy-intensive industrial processes. Making the sector carbon neutral while retaining its competitiveness in a full circular economy in Europe is a significant challenge which cannot be solved by the industry on its own.
Interview with Prof. Dr. Kurt Wagemann, Dechema
“Cost of CO2 Emissions Must Be High”
CT: How probable is it that the chemical industry will attain carbon neutrality by 2050?
Wagemann: In the study we have examined various scenarios – even including the assumption that chemical plant will be operated solely with bio-based raw materials, CO2, water, and electricity by the year 2050. The last-named scenario is highly unlikely, unless global agreement is reached to emit no more carbon dioxide from fossil fuels. The crucial factors here are the prices of raw materials and energy. Strong incentives will be necessary for countries producing oil, natural gas, and coal to renounce the use of their fossil resources.
CT: The European chemical industry is already complaining about competitive disadvantages arising from high energy costs. How great is the motivation for it to further compromise its competitivity by adopting carbon-neutral processes?
Wagemann: The industry has an avid interest in this topic. It wants to know what options are available, how high the price would be, and what is already technically feasible. However, the companies remain profit-oriented – i.e. a global agreement will be necessary for them to forgo emission of carbon dioxide. CO2 emissions must cost more in order to exert appropriate economic pressure. International trading in, and growing scarcity of, CO2 certificates is a possible answer.
CT: The study is therefore more of a discussion basis than a concrete roadmap?
Wagemann: Correct. The discussion is already underway – in the study we have outlined not only the technical requirements but also the costs and the necessary conditions.
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