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Decarbonising chemicals production

Our world relies on chemicals – they are in everything from our clothes to cleaning products, food packaging to medicine.

But like transport, the industry was built on fossil fuels and will need to change if society is to reach its net zero goals. 

Chemical manufacturers know how to turn raw materials like oil and gas into the chemical building blocks that are used to make the case for your smartphone or the plastic pipes that deliver clean water to your home. So finding ways to decarbonise chemical manufacturing is essential if the lifestyles that many of us enjoy are to remain sustainable. That doesn’t just mean switching to more renewable forms of power (such as hydrogen) to run chemical plants – although that is important. It also means using more sustainable materials to replace fossil fuels as the ‘feedstocks’ that make the chemicals in the first place.

Pivoting to greener feedstocks 

Our catalysis technology and process design expertise can help. Broadly speaking, our catalysts don’t care about feedstocks – with the right knowhow, chemical reactions can be triggered in anything from natural gas to sugarcane to household waste.

But catalysis is just one part of a very large, complex system that has been built over decades. That means this transition isn’t going to happen overnight. It will take time and investment to build new infrastructure and secure commercial levels of alternative feedstocks. In the first instance, the industry will likely combine fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage. But in the longer term, as governments continue to introduce environmental regulation, carbon taxes and deadlines, we expect to see a dramatic shift.

The future of chemicals, today

And we’ll be ready when it happens. We are already working with others to commercialise a process to convert renewable feedstocks into the chemical, bio-paraxylene which is a key raw material for producing renewable polyester. And our catalysts and technology have been chosen for the world’s first wind to methanol plant in Chile.

Case study

World first wind to methanol plant

Methanol is an important chemical found in a wide variety of end products, from fuels to solvents to antifreeze. But today most of it is made from fossil fuels, which create carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Using our expertise in catalysis and process design, plus our flexible catalysts, which can be used with different feedstocks, we’re helping the chemicals industry find ways to reduce those emissions.

For example, we’re now part of the Haru Oni project in Patagonia, Chile, being led by Siemens Energy. The project will be the world’s first integrated large scale plant to produce methanol from wind power, instead of a more carbon intensive feedstock such as coal.

To do that, we are licensing our methanol technology and supplying the engineering, catalysts and equipment needed to make around 900,000 litres a year of low carbon methanol as early as 2022.

All of that using only green hydrogen made from wind power and CO2 from the air.

The project will demonstrate the potential for innovation and collaboration to help decarbonise chemicals production.

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