How the chemical industry can meet the climate goals

April 06, 2020

Switzerland's Federal Council has decided that the country should become carbon-neutral by 2050. The governments of many other countries are pursuing similar goals. This may be challenging as far as car traffic and the entire power sector are concerned, but not impossible - with systematic electrification and the exclusive use of carbon-neutral energy sources, for example.

A switch of this kind will be more difficult for the chemical industry. While for many other industrial sectors one of the primary concern is their energy efficiency, the chemical industry must also address the question of raw materials. "Polymers, plastics, synthetic textile fibres and medicines all contain carbon. It has to come from somewhere," explains Marco Mazzotti, Professor of Process Engineering at ETH Zurich. As things stand, the vast majority of this carbon comes from oil and natural gas. During production, and when the chemical products are burned or decompose at the end of their life, they release CO2.

Using concrete figures and methanol production as a case study, Mazzotti and co-workers from ETH Zurich and Utrecht University have now systematically compared various approaches that aim at reducing net CO2 emissions from the chemical industry to zero. The main conclusion from the new study is that the goal of achieving net-zero CO2 emissions in the chemical industry is in fact attainable. However, all the approaches the study examined for achieving this target have both advantages and disadvantages, which manifest themselves differently in different regions of the world. In addition, all three concepts require more energy (in the form of electricity) than current production methods.

Capture CO2 or use biomass

The future of flying

Mazzotti and his co-authors based their study on the production of methanol, which is similar to the process used for producing fuels. Their work therefore also informs the discussion about future aircraft fuels, as Mazzotti points out: "We hear it time and again, even from experts, that the only way aviation can become carbon-neutral is through the use of synthetic fuels," he says. "But that's not true." Producing synthetic fuels is an extremely energy-intensive process. If electricity from coal or gas-fired power stations were to be used for this purpose, synthetic fuels would have an even larger carbon footprint than fossil fuels. The study shows that there are at least two viable alternatives to synthetic fuels: aviation could continue to use fossil fuels if the CO2 emitted by aircraft were captured and sequestered elsewhere, or the fuels could be obtained from biomass.
-end-
This research project was funded by the Swiss Competence Center for Energy Research - Efficiency of Industrial Processes (SCCER-EIP) and the Swiss Federal Office of Energy.

Reference

Gabrielli P, Gazzani M, Mazzotti M: The Role of Carbon Capture and Utilization, Carbon Capture and Storage, and Biomass to Enable a Net-Zero-CO2 Emissions Chemical Industry. Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Research, 4 March 2020, doi: 10.1021/acs.iecr.9b06579 [http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/acs.iecr.9b06579]

ETH Zurich

Related Biomass Articles from Brightsurf:

Bound for the EU, American-made biomass checks the right boxes
A first-of-its-kind study published in the journal Scientific Reports finds that wood produced in the southeastern United States for the EU's renewable energy needs has a net positive effect on US forests--but that future industry expansion could warrant more research.

The highest heat-resistant plastic ever is developed from biomass
The use of biomass-derived plastics is one of the prime concerns to establish a sustainable society, which is incorporated as one of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Laser technology measures biomass in world's largest trees
Laser technology has been used to measure the volume and biomass of giant Californian redwood trees for the first time, records a new study by UCL researchers.

Inducing plasma in biomass could make biogas easier to produce
Producing biogas from the bacterial breakdown of biomass presents options for a greener energy future, but the complex composition of biomass comes with challenges.

Microbes working together multiply biomass conversion possibilities
Non-edible plants are a promising alternative to crude oil, but their heterogenous composition can be a challenge to producing high yields of useful products.

Evergreen idea turns biomass DNA into degradable materials
A Cornell-led collaboration is turning DNA from organic matter -- such as onions, fish and algae -- into biodegradable gels and plastics.

Upgrading biomass with selective surface-modified catalysts
Loading single platinum atoms on titanium dioxide promotes the conversion of a plant derivative into a potential biofuel.

A novel biofuel system for hydrogen production from biomass
A recent study, affiliated with South Korea's Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) has presented a new biofuel system that uses lignin found in biomass for the production of hydrogen.

Biomass fuels can significantly mitigate global warming
'Every crop we tested had a very significant mitigation capacity despite being grown on very different soils and under natural climate variability,' says Dr.

Traditional biomass stoves shown to cause lung inflammation
Traditional stoves that burn biomass materials and are not properly ventilated, which are widely used in developing nations where cooking is done indoors, have been shown to significantly increase indoor levels of harmful PM2.5 (miniscule atmospheric particulates) and carbon monoxide (CO) and to stimulate biological processes that cause lung inflammation and may lead to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), according to new research published online in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society.

Read More: Biomass News and Biomass Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.