Is it the end of the oil era? A vision for the decarbonisation of the chemical industry — Chemistry could become almost neutral to climate by 2050, as recent studies show. The price would be, however, enormous: Up to a tenfold of the current investment volume per year had to be pumped into alternative raw materials and process development. Is the dream of green chemicals over before it even began? How realistic is the decoupling of fossil raw materials overall? And what could be done now?
The chemical industry wants to turn greener: Moving away from the old role of a climate sinner towards a new form of recycling economy — and that with technology, that either already exists or is currently being developed. Doesn’t work? Europe’s leading experts and industry experts see it otherwise. The Dechema, the Society for Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology in Germany, even spoke of a “leading role” which the branch could play in the decarbonisation scheme of the global economy.
The potential would in fact be enormous: the Chemical industry accounts for at least approximately 19 % of the total energy usage in the EU, making it the largest industrial consumer.
Efficiency is a Must
No wonder that efficiency in international competition is a must: Since the nineties, chemistry production succeeded in cutting its energy intensity (the amount of energy required to produce a certain quantity of a product) by 56 %, whereas the production could gain by 78 %.
Within the same period, the emission of greenhouse gases also decreased by 59 %, so that the chemistry is nowadays only the third largest industrial emitter.
But this fervour appears to be waning — probably also because the much-cited “Low-hanging Fruits”, thus the simple measures to be implemented, which rapidly pay back, are largely harvested.
Much Needs to be Done
Yet, there is much that remains to be done — but the good news is, that the branch must not even re-invent the wheel to achieve significant effects: “A number of much-promising technologies are already available or in a relatively advanced developmental stage,” explains Marco Mensink, General director of the European chemistry association Cefic.
“The industry must find a way to overcome the hurdles in investments, raw material and energy supply, so that they can be used to a great extent.”
This not only involves the availability of clean, hence emission-free energy and alternative raw material, but also particularly the manufacturing costs associated with the new economic form, which would otherwise hardly be competitive on an international scale, Mensink fears.
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