Researchers: Chemical Industry Slow to Decarbonize

Feb. 1, 2023
Electricity or electrochemically generated hydrogen show promise as immediate solutions

The chemical industry is not doing enough to reduce its impact on global greenhouse gas emissions, according to an MIT News report.

The article, written by Kelly Travers from the MIT Energy Initiative, notes that the industry “has been largely untouched” when it comes to decarbonization.

“When it comes to climate action and dealing with the emissions that come from the chemical sector, the slow pace of progress is partly technical and partly driven by the hesitation on behalf of policymakers to overly impact the economic competitiveness of the sector,” Dharik Mallapragada, a principal research scientist at the MIT Energy Initiative, told Travers.

The article notes that, according to the International Energy Agency, the chemical industry is the world’s largest industrial energy consumer and the third-largest source of industrial emissions. The article further states that new sustainable chemical production methods, including electrification powered by low-carbon sources, should be considered to reduce the industry’s impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

“Generally, the perception is that electrification can play a role in this sector — in a very narrow sense — in that it can replace fossil fuel combustion by providing the heat that the combustion is providing,” said Mallapragada told MIT News. “What we argue is that electrification could be much more than that.”

Researchers from DC-MUSE, a multi-institution research initiative, outlined four technological pathways that can help the industry reduce its carbon footprint. They include:

• Directly replacing fossil fuel-produced heat with electricity or electrochemically generated hydrogen, options that could be deployed immediately and potentially be used to retrofit existing facilities.

• Using electrochemistry and plasma, which are less technologically mature but could replace energy- and carbon-intensive thermochemical processes.

The researchers note the importance of workforce training to increase confidence in these solutions and support adoption.

To read the full MIT news article, click here

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