Reactions Driven By Renewable Electricity – A new chapter towards sustainability of the Chemical Industry

Impact of Chemical Industry on Earth is huge
Image by Marcin from Pixabay 

The chemical industry is a vital part of the global economy, providing the raw materials and intermediates for a wide range of products, including plastics, pharmaceuticals, and consumer goods. However, the industry also has a significant environmental impact, with estimates suggesting that it contributes to around 6% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

A handful of chemical processes, including the production of ammonia, methanol, olefins, and aromatics, are responsible for a significant portion of these emissions. These processes are particularly difficult to decarbonize, as they involve high temperatures and pressures, and often require large amounts of energy.

However, there is hope on the horizon for the chemical industry. The development of low-carbon power grids, which could become a reality in the next decade, could enable the industry to reduce its GHG emissions by at least 35%. This would be a major step forward in the transition towards a more sustainable industry.

Power-to-X or P2X

One key concept that could help to bridge the gap between the chemical industry and low-carbon power grids is the “power to X” approach. This involves using low-carbon electricity to produce hydrogen or other chemical intermediates, which can then be used as feedstocks for chemical processes.

For example, low-carbon hydrogen production using water electrolysis followed by conversion to ammonia and methanol (possibly ethanol) could reduce another quarter of the emissions from the chemical industry, while also providing a liquid storage option for hydrogen. The Monash Process, which uses electrolysis technology to produce ammonia, is already making headway in the industry and has the potential to revolutionize the traditional high-temperature and pressure process with an electrically driven chemical process.

The remaining olefins and aromatics could also be produced catalytically at lower temperatures, using renewable power. Materials innovation in membranes, sorbents, and catalysts will be crucial to transitioning chemical production to a lower carbon future.

It is worth noting that the cost and availability of low-carbon electricity and hydrogen, as well as changes in carbon trading and tax policies in different geographies, could affect the feasibility of these recommendations. However, the electrification of the chemical industry is a promising new chapter in the journey towards sustainability and offers the opportunity to significantly reduce GHG emissions in the sector.