Chemicals and petrochemicals

Tracking Clean Energy Progress

🕐 Last updated Wednesday, 23 May 2018

More efforts needed

The sector’s process energy consumption grew at an annual rate of 2% and its direct energy-related CO2 emissions grew at 2.5% between 2000 and 2016. The increase in CO2 intensity of process energy has been mainly driven by shifts towards heavier feedstocks in some regions. Global energy-related CO2 emissions need to grow by less than 1.3% annually to meet SDS.


Global final process energy demand in chemicals and petrochemicals

Coal demand increased from 2000, but fell slightly in 2016.

	Coal	Imported Heat	Electricity	Gas	Oil	Bioenergy
2000	1	1	1	1	1	1
2001	1.04	0.99	1.01	0.94	0.99	0.93
2002	1.08	1.04	0.87	0.79	0.98	0.67
2003	1.15	1.13	0.91	0.80	0.99	0.75
2004	1.54	1.16	0.96	0.83	1.02	0.64
2005	1.74	1.22	0.99	0.85	0.97	0.61
2006	1.81	1.33	1.02	0.83	1.00	0.67
2007	2.01	1.41	1.08	0.91	1.00	0.69
2008	2.08	1.32	1.05	0.92	0.95	0.49
2009	2.04	1.25	1.02	0.93	0.89	0.45
2010	2.13	1.46	1.09	1.15	1.11	0.55
2011	2.39	1.54	1.13	1.24	1.07	0.52
2012	2.30	1.59	1.17	1.25	0.97	0.44
2013	2.30	1.54	1.20	1.27	0.99	0.53
2014	2.24	1.58	1.23	1.32	0.97	0.55
2015	2.46	1.64	1.25	1.28	0.99	0.70
2016	2.34	1.69	1.28	1.30	1.02	0.75
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Note: Process energy demand excludes feedstock.


Demand for chemical products has grown strongly in the past two decades, primarily driven by the demand for nitrogenous fertilisers and plastics. As fertiliser markets mature in many regions, slowing demand is more than offset by strong growth in demand for plastics and other chemicals.

Recycling of thermoplastics counterbalances a small proportion of global demand for virgin plastics, as it displaces demand for primary chemicals. Globally these routes account for a small share, but in Europe the share of plastics collected for recycling exceeded that going to landfill for the first time in 20161.


Tracking progress

In the SDS, global direct carbon emissions from the sector peak in 2025 and begin declining. This results in an average annual growth rate of 1.3% between 2016 and 2030.


Innovation

The IEA’s new Innovation Tracking Framework identifies key long-term “technology innovation gaps” across the energy mix that need to be filled in order to meet long-term clean energy transition goals. Each innovation gap highlights where R&D investment and other efforts need improvement.

Explore the technology innovation gaps identified for chemicals below:

Ammonia production from electrolytic hydrogen

Why is this RD&D challenge critical?

Considering the provision of renewable electricity, this process route would avoid the generation of CO2 emissions in ammonia production.

Key RD&D focus areas over the next 5 years

Optimise process system integration of electrolytic hydrogen-based ammonia plants with subsequent urea synthesis. Improve performance of electrolytic hydrogen production and reduce costs. Investigate hybrid concepts with flexible operation based on both electricity and natural gas.

Key initiatives

  • Currently at TRL 7-8, individual technologies available, system integration to be completed.
  • Key milestone: Fully integrated system developed and demonstrated at commercial scale by 2019.
  • First large scale demonstration plant of ammonia production using solar power expected to be commissioned in 2019 in Pilbara, Australia.

Ammonia production from biomass

Why is this RD&D challenge critical?

This production route would avoid the direct use of fossil fuels in ammonia production. It is key that biomass feedstocks are supplied sustainably.

Key RD&D focus areas over the next 5 years

Focus on technology costs reduction. Improve the conversion yield from lignocellulosic feedstock into chemicals. Demonstrate the economics of combined production of bio-based chemicals from lignocellulosic feedstock at large scale.

Key initiatives

  • Currently at TRL 6-7, at pilot stage.
  • Key milestone: Large scale demonstration by 2020.
  • Techno-economic evaluation of ammonia production via integrated biomass gasification in existing pulp and paper mills have been performed. Lower production costs would be required to make biomass-based ammonia production economically viable. No large plant demonstration plans known.


Methanol production from electrolytic hydrogen and CO2

Why is this RD&D challenge critical?

Considering the provision of renewable electricity and CO2 from either biogenic sources or unavoidable industrial by-products from fossil-based sources, this production route would avoid the direct use of fossil fuels in methanol production. In a decarbonisation scenario, CO2 from fossil-based unavoidable industrial by-products would become scarce in the long-term, so that extracting CO2 from the atmosphere through biomass growth or air capture would become increasingly important.

Key RD&D focus areas over the next 5 years

Scale up demonstration plants and develop operational experience. Improve productivity and reduce costs; development of novel catalysts less sensitive to inhibition by high concentration of CO2 and H2O. Explore systems smart balancing with the power grid. For instance, coupled to biogas plants with fast start/shut-down operations.

Key initiatives

  • Currently at TRL 7, several pilots are in operation.
  • Key milestone: Fully integrated system developed and demonstrated at commercial scale by 2019.
  • Catalysts are commercially available for the hydrogenation of pure CO2 to methanol, and a number of pilot plants are in operation. The George Olah Renewable Methanol Plant was commissioned by Carbon Recycling International in 2011 in Iceland and designed for a 4kt/yr capacity with a EUR 7.1 million investment. There are plans for scaling up this plant to 40kt/yr.

Methanol production from biomass

Why is this RD&D challenge critical?

This production route would avoid the direct use of fossil fuels in methanol production. It is key that biomass feedstocks are supplied sustainably.

Key RD&D focus areas over the next 5 years

Focus on technology costs reduction. Improving the conversion yield from lignocellulosic feedstock into chemicals. Demonstrate the economics of combined production of bio-based chemicals from lignocellulosic feedstock at large scale.

Key initiatives

  • Currently at TRL 6-7, at pilot stage.
  • Key milestone: Large scale demonstration by 2020.
  • A first commercial scale biomethanol plant was announced in 2012 by VärmlandsMetanol AB in Hagfors, Sweden.


Ethylene production from electricity and CO2

Why is this RD&D challenge critical?

Considering the provision of renewable electricity and CO2 from either biogenic sources or unavoidable industrial by-products from fossil-based sources, this production route would avoid the direct use of fossil fuels in ethylene production. In a decarbonisation scenario, CO2 from fossil-based unavoidable industrial by-products would become scarce in the long-term, so that extracting CO2 from the atmosphere through biomass growth or air capture would become increasingly important.

Key RD&D focus areas over the next 5 years

Find a stable copper-based electrode for the production of ethylene from CO2 with electricity. The research focuses on electrocatalysts because these materials can charge inert CO2 with energy-rich electrons in order to create ethylene.

Key initiatives

  • Currently at TRL 3-4, research to prove feasibility.
  • Key milestone: Process development by 2025.
  • The project eEthylene under the lead of Siemens, funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research, aim at a direct electrocatalytic production of ethylene from CO2 and water in a single stage system.

Ethylene production from bioethanol

Why is this RD&D challenge critical?

This production route would avoid the direct use of fossil fuels in ethylene production from the widely established fossil-feedstock based steam crackers. It is key that biomass feedstocks are supplied sustainably.

Key RD&D focus areas over the next 5 years

Focus on improving bioethanol production process currently at TRL9 for sugar and starch containing crops fermentation, but at TRL7 for lignocellulosic biomass gasification. Research gasification and subsequent fermentation or catalytic conversion of synthesis gas by means of MoS2-based catalysts.

Key initiatives

  • Currently at TRL 8-9, commercial availability by limited deployment.
  • Key milestone: Expand commercial deployment.
  • In 2014, Axens, Total and IFP Energies Nouvelles announced a technology for ethylene production through dehydration of bioethanol under the technology brand name Atol™ to produce of polymer grade bio-ethylene. However, most of the capacity under construction is directed to non-polymer ethylene derivatives, such as ethylene oxide, which could later be used for producing polymers.

Propylene production from bioethylene

Why is this RD&D challenge critical?

This production route would avoid the direct use of fossil fuels in propylene production from the widely established fossil-feedstock based steam crackers. It is key that biomass feedstocks are supplied sustainably.

Key RD&D focus areas over the next 5 years

Improve catalyst to enable the conversion of ethylene to propylene in a single-stage process instead of two (dimerization of ethylene plus metathesis). Focus on improving bioethanol production process currently at TRL9 for sugar and starch containing crops fermentation, but at TRL7 for lignocellulosic biomass gasification. Research gasification and subsequent fermentation or catalytic conversion of synthesis gas by means of MoS2-based catalysts.

Key initiatives

  • Currently at TRL 6-7, at pilot stage.
  • Key milestone: Large scale demonstration by 2020.
  • In Brazil, Braskem has announced a production plant for bio-based polypropylene at 30 kt/yr scale.


Aromatics production from methanol

Why is this RD&D challenge critical?

If low-carbon methanol were to be available, this process route would open a new avenue to displace fossil feedstock for aromatics production in conventional naphtha steam crackers.

Key RD&D focus areas over the next 5 years

Develop catalysts to improve aromatic process yield and benzene, toluene and xylenes selectivity. Achieve process commercial demonstration. Improve process optimisation and scale up deployment.

Key initiatives

  • Currently at TRL 7, individual technologies available, system integration to be completed.
  • Key milestone: Fully integrated system developed and demonstrated at commercial scale by 2019.
  • Three pilot plants were developed in 2013, and commercial scale demonstration projects are under development.

Aromatics production from biomass gasification

Why is this RD&D challenge critical?

This process route would open a new avenue via low carbon methanol to displace fossil feedstock for aromatics production in conventional naphtha steam crackers.

Key RD&D focus areas over the next 5 years

Focus on technology cost reduction. Improve the conversion yield from lignocellulosic feedstock into chemicals. Demonstrate the economics of combined production of bio-based chemicals from lignocellulosic feedstock at large scale.

Key initiatives

  • Currently at TRL 6-7, at pilot stage.
  • Key milestone: Large scale demonstration by 2020.
  • Dependent on progress in biomass-based methanol and methanol-to-aromatics processes.


Carbon capture

Why is this RD&D challenge critical?

Carbon capture would be needed to enable production routes using CO2 as feedstock. When combined with permanent storage, it would offer opportunities for drastic CO2 emissions reductions or could even result in negative emissions if combined with biomass-based routes.

Key RD&D focus areas over the next 5 years

Technology scale up to large-scale demonstration; improved economics to enable broader application.

Why is this RD&D challenge critical?

Carbon capture would be needed to enable production routes using CO2 as feedstock. When combined with permanent storage, it would offer opportunities for drastic CO2 emissions reductions or could even result in negative emissions if combined with biomass-based routes.

Key RD&D focus areas over the next 5 years

Technology scale up to commercial demonstration.

Why is this RD&D challenge critical?

Carbon capture would be needed to enable production routes using CO2 as feedstock. When combined with permanent storage, it would offer opportunities for drastic CO2 emissions reductions or could even result in negative emissions if combined with biomass-based routes.

Key RD&D focus areas over the next 5 years

Undertake successful pilot testing trials of other capture technologies.

  • Chemical absorption currently at TRL 8, with two pilot projects successfully in operation; however, experience gained with operation of large-scale plants in power sector; a number of other capture technologies are at lower stages of development.
  • Key milestone: large-scale practice in post-combustion capture technologies.
  • Feasibility studies from 2016 demonstrate a flexible CCS chain from CO2 industrial sources in Norway. Instead of transporting CO2 by pipeline to a storage site, the plan is to transport CO2 by ship to a connection point tied to the storage site.
  • Pilot plant testing of a proprietary chemical solvent at a Solvay chemical plant near Tirupati, India.

Explore all 100+ innovation gaps across 38 key technologies and sectors here.


References

  1. Plastics Europe (2018), European plastic waste: Recycling overtakes landfill for the first time, http://www.plasticseurope.org/en/newsroom/press-releases/european-plastic-waste-recycling-overtakes-landfill-first-time (accessed February 2018).