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Greenhouse Gases

Dow details plan to decarbonize its petrochemical production

Firm’s keystone project is a new, net-zero petrochemical plant in Alberta

by Alexander H. Tullo
October 7, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 37


A photo of railroad tracks in front of a chemical complex.
Credit: Dow
Dow plans to decarbonize its petrochemical complex in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta.

At an Oct. 6 investor day, Dow, the largest US chemical maker, unveiled a plan intended to improve its environmental performance without compromising profits.

Dow last year set a goal of achieving net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. In the nearer term, the company aims to reduce carbon emissions by 15% this decade while increasing its output by 20%. “We turn 125 years old next year, and we’re turning the corner into a low-carbon, sustainable world,” Dow CEO Jim Fitterling told reporters. Dow said it will allocate $1 billion in annual capital spending to decarbonize its manufacturing sites one by one.

Its biggest initiative is to build the world’s first carbon-neutral ethylene cracker at its site in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta. The cracker will have 1.8 million metric tons (t) per year of ethylene capacity when it opens in 2027, and Dow said it will implement carbon capture at the entire site by 2029. In total, 2.5 million t of its ethylene capacity in Alberta will be zero and low carbon.

This step alone will decarbonize 20% of Dow’s global ethylene capacity, according to the company. Additionally, Dow plans to triple polyethylene capacity at the site over this time.

The cracker will be modeled on Dow’s recently completed ethylene cracker in Freeport, Texas, which the company said has a CO2 footprint that’s 65% smaller than its other crackers. But the centerpiece of the new project will be an autothermal reformer that converts cracking furnace off-gases such as methane into hydrogen to be used in place of fossil fuels to heat the firm’s crackers in Alberta.

Dow will capture the CO2 created during hydrogen generation and send it to the Alberta Carbon Trunk Line, which will transport the greenhouse gas to oil fields for enhanced oil recovery and ultimately sequestration.

“Canada has a price on carbon and also has policies and investment support to help us invest in low-carbon technologies like this autothermal reforming and carbon capture,” Fitterling said. The US is being left behind, he added. “There are 40 countries in the world that have market-based emission trading systems, and we think the United States needs to move into that realm.”

Dow also announced new initiatives in sustainable plastics. Fitterling told reporters that sales of Dow resins incorporating postconsumer recycled content have tripled in the past year thanks to customers keen on improving their environmental profile.

Deepening its involvement in recycling, Dow will collaborate with Fuenix Ecogy to build a plant in the Netherlands with capacity to convert 20,000 t per year of plastic waste into pyrolysis oil that can be used as a petrochemical feedstock at the firm’s site in Terneuzen, the Netherlands. Dow is also contracting with another pyrolysis firm, New Hope Energy, to supply the oil in North America.



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