The low-carbon technologies to produce petrochemicals are available but are not yet competitive says the German Society for Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology. The main hurdle to overcome is the much higher production cost with these low-carbon technologies. “For instance, the production costs for ammonia, methanol, olefins and BTX (aromatics) would be two to five times higher than their fossil alternatives under current conditions.” Feedstock costs (in the case of biomass) are much higher than with fossil feedstock. In addition, the report says that the current biomass-based production of petrochemicals is rather inefficient and requires large amounts of biomass while reducing only slightly CO2 emissions. The report, therefore, recommends improving the efficiency of production processes and increasing recycling rather than replacing all fossil feedstock by biomass.

The chemical industry is energy-intensive but is committed to improving energy efficiency and decreasing CO2 emissions. The chemical industry has already halved its energy intensity and greenhouse gas emissions since 1990. Chemicals and petrochemicals also enable energy savings and emission reduction by providing downstream users with the necessary building blocks to improve materials (e.g. insulation materials, efficient lighting, lighter materials for transport, advanced materials for renewable technologies etc.). A 2009 survey entitled Innovations for Greenhouse Gas Reductions, showed that for every unit of carbon it emitted in 2005, the industry’s products enabled up to 2.6 units of CO2-equivalent savings during the lifetime of those chemicals.

An ambitious research and innovation programme is essential to make the sector low carbon while maintaining its competitiveness. However, this challenge cannot solved by the industry on its own and addressing it requires an intense cooperation between private and public stakeholders.

For further information, please read the report here and Cefic’s press release.