Roadmap Aims to Catalyze Better Energy Efficiency

International initiative foresees catalytic processes playing a key role in cutting consumption and emissions

By Sean Ottewell, Editor at Large

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The chemical industry potentially can vastly decrease energy use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions with the help of game-changing technology and strong support from policymakers, says a roadmap published in June. "Energy and GHG Reductions in the Chemical Industry via Catalytic Processes" was jointly developed by the International Energy Agency (IEA), Paris, France, the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA), Brussels, Belgium, and the German Society for Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology (Dechema), Frankfurt, Germany.

The roadmap focuses on the role of catalytic processes in cutting energy use and GHG emissions in the chemical industry — and demonstrates how savings of up to 13 eJ (exajoules) could be made by 2050. This is equivalent to the current annual primary energy use of Germany.

The roadmap is the second phase of a three-part process that originally kicked off with a 2009 McKinsey study sponsored by the ICCA. "Earlier top-down estimates of improvement potential of reducing energy and GHGs, such as the McKinsey study, suggested that catalysis could play a key role in reducing energy and GHGs, but were vague as to how this could be accomplished. This roadmap attempts an innovative combination of bottom-up data collection and top-down evaluation," explains Claus Beckmann, head of energy and climate policy, communications and government, for BASF, Lugwigshafen, Germany. Beckmann was one of four co-chairs on the core team responsible for the roadmap.

This two-pronged approach involved: studying bottom-up technical improvements, implementation strategies, and emerging and game-changing technologies; and top-down global scenarios using country-submitted data covering factors such as potential economic growth.

To gather its data, the team used market research information, discussions with licensors, publicly available literature, and responses to questionnaires about the top 40 energy-consuming chemical processes sent to chemical and catalyst manufacturers as well as academics.

"Many of our stakeholders, including policymakers, are very surprised to learn that while the chemical industry is the biggest industrial energy user, it is also a major contributor to cutting GHGs. This was a fact that we wanted to explain to a broader audience — about exactly what the chemical industry can and cannot do," says Russel Mills, global director for energy and climate change policy, for Dow, Geneva, Switzerland. Mills also was a co-chair of the core team while his colleague Ed Rightor, director, strategic projects, at Dow in Midland, Mich., was the company's technical expert on the team and also its leader.

The roadmap offers a number of crucial conclusions:

•    the manufacture of 18 products (among thousands) accounts for 80% of energy demand in the chemical industry and 75% of GHG emissions;
•    catalyst and related process improvements could reduce energy intensity for these products by 20–40% as a whole by 2050 if all the measures in the roadmap were acted upon. In absolute terms, such improvements could save as much as 13 eJ and 1 gigatonne (gt) of carbon dioxide equivalent per year by 2050 versus a "business-as-usual" scenario;
•    in the short-to-medium term (i.e., to 2025), steady progress in implementing incremental improvements and deploying best practice technologies (BPTs) could provide substantial energy savings and emissions reductions compared to business as usual;
•    achieving deeper cuts in energy consumption and emissions will require developing and deploying emerging technologies that exceed the capacity of current BPTs;
•    making a step change in the sector's energy consumption and GHG emissions depends upon development of game-changing technologies, such as sustainable biomass feedstocks and hydrogen from renewable energy sources, which haven't yet reached commercial maturity;
•    and, therefore, long-term investment and support for research and development (R&D) to enable innovation is warranted to continue making advances in new technologies.

However, the roadmap notes that getting onto the right path to achieve these goals requires immediate effort by all stakeholders, both individually and jointly, to develop long-term strategies and corresponding mechanisms to spur action and measure progress.

For example, it calls on policymakers to develop and implement policies to more highly reward energy-efficiency investments and remove barriers for new investments, as well as to create a long-term policy framework that encourages investments to reinvigorate catalyst/process improvement and R&D for high-energy-consuming processes.

The roadmap also calls on policymakers to introduce enabling policies for best practices in regions where new facilities are built, especially in developing countries, and to eliminate energy subsidies that undermine use of more-energy-efficient technology. In the case of BPTs, overcoming barriers to deployment, including high capital costs, replacement challenges and competing investments, may demand policy measures, it says.

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