Carbon-neutral hydrogen could play a role to reduce the carbon footprint of the petrochemical industry by in the short-term providing low-carbon fuel to heat steam crackers’ furnaces and in the long-term feedstock to manufacture petrochemicals.

The Petrochemical industry is currently one of the largest consumers and producers of hydrogen, the main users (more than 85 %) being refining and fertilisers. Beyond its preferred use as a chemical raw material, hydrogen can also be used to replace some of the natural gas used as fuel in furnaces by natural gas/hydrogen mixtures since these mixtures release less CO2 when combusted. Given the high energy intensity of the petrochemical industry, hydrogen could therefore play a key role in the decarbonization of the petrochemical industry if it is cost-competitive and provided from emission-free production processes (including carbon capture and sequestration options). This requires an appropriate infrastructure as well as a favourable regulation around its production, storage and distribution. But in the long run, burning renewable hydrogen in furnaces is less energy efficient than direct electrification of furnaces (which are still in early phases of development). Therefore, it is a transition technology until the electrification one becomes mature.

However, the current production of hydrogen either as a by-product of steam cracking or via steam methane reforming emits greenhouse gases. Nowadays, the cost of green hydrogen production is still high, and research is needed e.g. to optimize and scale up the electrolysis process to reduce it. Research is also required into the CO2/H2 chemistry to make synthetic fuels and methanol that can be used as feedstock to manufacture chemicals (or even directly petrochemicals without going via methanol).

We are positively exploring the opportunities that hydrogen can offer for the petrochemical industry.

For more information, please read our paper.