Low Carbon Chemicals & Fertilizers

Decarbonization Avenue : Low Carbon Chemicals & Fertilizers

The chemicals sector has a significant carbon footprint for two reasons. One, most  chemicals use oil as the main feedstock, and thus comes with an embodied carbon. The other part of the industry’s CO2 emissions come from the production processes of chemicals - mostly due to the amount of energy used to produce key building chemical blocks such as ethylene, and in some cases also from CO2 emissions that are actually part of the reaction process - the prominent example is the production of hydrogen from methane.

The global chemicals sector (excluding emissions from the fertilizer value chain) generates about 600 million tons of CO2 emissions annually. Of this, ethylene production alone emits about 220 million tons of CO2 emissions per annum, methanol about 150 million tons per annum and polypropylene about 120 million tons emissions per annum.

The world uses millions of tons of synthetic fertilizers every year. And the fertiilzer production value chain has a very high CO2 footprint. A part of the CO2 emissions in fertilizer production happens during hydrogen production, which is currently done through steam reformation of methane. CO2 emissions also take place during the production of ammonia. About 850 million tons of CO2 are emitted annually by the fertilizer industry value chain, with about 350 million tons from the production of hydrogen and 500 million tons from the ammonia production process.

Decarbonizing the sector would require decarbonizing hydrogen production - possibly through green electrolysis - and also reducing the energy requirements for ammonia production, or electrifying ammonia production and using renewable power for the electrification. All these efforts are in their initial stages. 

The 2020-2030 period will witness decarbonization efforts and innovations through reducing the amount of energy needed for chemicals production, electrifying some of the production processes (for instance, ethylene and ammonia production), recycling end chemicals and plastics so that lower amounts of chemicals need to be produced in the first place, and use of bio-based raw materials instead of petroleum. Currently, there’s significant progress in three of the four - energy efficiency in chemical production, recycling,  and bio-based chemical alternatives. Electrification of key chemical production processes is at a very early stage but could see action post 2025.

Industries impacted

  • Agriculture & farming
  • Chemicals & petrochemicals
  • Construction & real estate
  • Fast moving consumer goods
  • Fertilizers
  • Food & beverages
  • Marine transport
  • Mining & metals
  • Oil & gas
  • Packaging & plastics
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Textile & apparel

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Themes & Topics

  • Types of chemicals

    • Commodity chemicals

    • Speciality chemicals

    • Fertilizers

      • Ammonia production

    • Pesticides

    • Polymers

      • Polyethylene

      • Polyester

      • Polypropylene

      • Nylon

      • Polyurethane

      • Polystyrene

    • Electronic chemicals

    • Surfactants

    • Construction chemicals

    • Household chemicals

    • Industrial cleaning chemicals

    • Flavours and fragrances

    • Paints, coatings  & inks printing chemicals

    • Textile chemicals

    • Lubricants & greases

    • Solvents

  • Low carbon chemical synthesis

    • Catalysts for low green chemicals

    • Bio sources for renewable chemicals

  • Decarbonization through:

    • Renewable energy

    • Energy efficiency

    • Energy storage

    • Waste management

    • Alternative raw materials & ingredients

    • Better processes & pathways

    • Water use efficiency

    • Carbon capture and/or use

  • Policies & mandates

  • Collaboration

    • Organizations

  • Academic and university research

  • Economics of low carbon chemicals

  • Key challenges