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Greenhouse Gases

US DOE lays out paths for chemical industry to cut emissions

Powering process heat via electricity can lower energy intensity, report says

by Cheryl Hogue
September 12, 2022

High-tension electric wires held aloft by large metal pylons cross behind an array of solar panel on the ground.
Credit: Shutterstock
Switching from fossil fuels to electricity to run process heating systems is a way chemical manufacturers can curb carbon dioxide emissions, the US Department of Energy says.

The administration of US President Joe Biden has laid out four major avenues the chemical industry can follow to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. They are part of the Department of Energy’s Industrial Decarbonization Roadmap, released Sept. 7.

The first pathway for chemical makers involves energy efficiency improvements in heating systems that companies use to manufacture commercial chemicals. Switching from fossil fuels to electricity to fire these systems can lower their energy intensity, the report says. As the electric grid increasingly relies on low-carbon sources of power, such as solar and wind, the amount of carbon dioxide emissions related to process heating will drop further, it adds.

The report also recommends that the industry boost the performance of chemical reactions and separations with the use of catalysts, advanced technologies, and reactor systems. This will reduce CO2 emissions and improve energy efficiency, it says

In a third avenue, chemical makers can use hydrogen, biomass, or waste as fuel and feedstocks in manufacturing, the report says.

And fourth, the sector should improve efficiency in the use of materials—creating less waste—and increasing the circularity of materials. This means ensuring that products are designed so that after they are used and discarded, they can become the building blocks for new materials.

The report also lays out the research, development, and demonstration efforts needed so the chemical sector can make these changes. It indicates that the DOE could fund or carry out these projects.

The American Chemistry Council, which represents most of the US chemical industry, says it is reviewing the report. The trade group offered suggestions to the DOE as the department compiled the report.



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