Sector News

Can the world make the chemicals it needs without oil?

September 20, 2019
Chemical Value Chain

Black, gooey, greasy oil is the starting material for more than just transportation fuel. It’s also the source of dozens of petrochemicals that companies transform into versatile and valued materials for modern life: gleaming paints, tough and moldable plastics, pesticides, and detergents. Industrial processes produce something like beauty out of the ooze. By breaking the hydrocarbons in oil and natural gas into simpler compounds and then assembling those building blocks, scientists long ago learned to construct molecules of exquisite complexity.

Fossil fuels aren’t just the feedstock for those reactions; they also provide the heat and pressure that drive them. As a result, industrial chemistry’s use of petroleum accounts for 14% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Now, growing numbers of scientists and, more important, companies think the same final compounds could be made by harnessing renewable energy instead of digging up and rearranging hydrocarbons and spewing waste carbon dioxide (CO2) into the air. First, renewable electricity would split abundant molecules such as CO2, water, oxygen (O2), and nitrogen into reactive fragments. Then, more renewable electricity would help stitch those chemical pieces together to create the products that modern society relies on and is unlikely to give up.

“This is very much a topic at the forefront right now,” says Daniel Kammen, a physicist at the University of California, Berkeley.

Chemists in academia, at startups, and even at industrial giants are testing processes—even prototype plants—that use solar and wind energy, plus air and water, as feedstocks. “We’re turning electrons into chemicals,” says Nicholas Flanders, CEO of one contender, a startup called Opus 12. The company, located in a low-slung office park in Berkeley, has designed a washing machine–size device that uses electricity to convert water and CO2 from the air into fuels and other molecules, with no need for oil. At the other end of the commercial scale is Siemens, the manufacturing conglomerate based in Munich, Germany. That company is selling large-scale electrolyzers that use electricity to split water into O2 and hydrogen (H2), which can serve as a fuel or chemical feedstock. Even petroleum companies such as Shell and Chevron are looking for ways to turn renewable power into fuels.

Changing the lifeblood of industrial chemistry from fossil fuels to renewable electricity “will not happen in 1 to 2 years,” says Maximilian Fleischer, chief expert in energy technology at Siemens. Renewable energy is still too scarce and intermittent for now. However, he adds, “It’s a general trend that is accepted by everybody” in the chemical industry.

> View the full article on the Science website

By Robert F. Service

Source: Science

comments closed

Related News

January 22, 2023

Ineos to Acquire MBCC’s Admixtures Business

Chemical Value Chain

Ineos Enterprises has signed an agreement to buy MBCC Group’s admixture business from Sika. The deal is required by European antitrust regulators to approve Sika’s purchase of the MBCC Group, formerly BASF Construction Chemicals. The transaction is scheduled to complete in the first half of this year, subject to regulatory approvals.

January 22, 2023

Carbios and Novozymes strengthen partnership for PET bio-recycling

Chemical Value Chain

Carbios and Novozymes are entering an exclusive long-term global strategic partnership to ensure the production and supply of Carbios’ proprietary PET-degrading enzymes at an industrial scale. Together the companies will build the world’s first biological PET-recycling plant due to start production in 2025 in Longlaville, France, as well as Carbios’ future licensee customers.

January 22, 2023

Borealis adds crosslinked PE to circular portfolio

Chemical Value Chain

Pyrolysis process keeps difficult-to-recycle crosslinked polyethylene like XLPE and PE-X in the circular loop. Chemically recycled grades in the Borcycle™ C portfolio are ISCC PLUS certified according to the mass balance methodology. EverMinds™ approach provides innovative and viable solutions to recycling challenges in the Wire & Cable and Infrastructure industries.

How can we help you?

We're easy to reach