"Game-changers such as the use of biomass or hydrogen as feedstock could theoretically yield additional reductions in GHGs, but would increase energy use and require huge investments to develop, tackle technical hurdles and lower operational costs. Commercial maturity is not reached. So it is obvious that further research and development to enable innovation in these technologies is needed in the future," Beckmann concludes.
Mills agrees: "The Roadmap makes it clear that we won't get close to the bigger targets without game-changers. Equally these will take 10–20 years to materialize — and even then, you will still need both technical breakthrough and political support. The massively increased amount of agricultural land needed for biomass is just one example of challenges being faced. For biomass and hydrogen, the political challenges are every bit as demanding as the technological ones. This is one of the reasons that we have intentionally tried not to spell out in great detail how we would get to the game-changers."
Phase Three of the energy efficiency drive, just started, focuses on disseminating the roadmap. "We are very consciously making this a two-way process; rather than telling people what to do, we are presenting alternatives and engaging in dialogue," notes Mills. This approach, he says, was very well received at a recent meeting in China.
"We have also visited the Gulf region. Five years ago, the concept of energy efficiency — and, therefore, any reduction in oil and gas consumption by customers — would have been considered an economic threat. That perception is different today and resource efficiency as a concept has been fundamentally embraced, but it always has to be a two-way process in order to work," he adds.
He also is pleased with the response from Brazil, where industry has already paid for the roadmap to be translated in Portuguese. "It is a very reassuring sign that they are taking the report very seriously. Local language is key to convey the information in the roadmap to local policymakers. On our next visit to China later this year it will be interesting to see what plans they have with regards to translation into local dialects, too."
Efforts for the rest of this year and all of 2014 will focus on global outreach to raise awareness of the existing opportunities such as BPTs cited in the roadmap, and also to clarify interest in further work — including selected game-changers. This also involves assigning particular responsibilities for such work to specific companies in major chemical-producing regions around the world. Mills says it's currently too early in the process to name names.
Overall, Mills gives the impression of great confidence in the roadmap process. "I am upbeat, but with the proviso of timing. It won't be a fast process," he acknowledges.
The roadmap is available free at: www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/Chemical_Roadmap_2013_Final_WEB.pdf
The ten annexes, covering topics such as process routes for propylene oxide, hydrogen option, biomass-based process routes, refineries, and research needs, are available from: www.iea.org/media/freepublications/technologyroadmaps/Chemical_Roadmap_2013_Annexes_FinalforWEB(2).pdf
Sean Ottewell is Chemical Processing's Editor at Large. You cam e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.