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Biomass plants and gasification can help the chemicals industry on the path to decarbonization.

With various options for reducing emissions, the chemicals and petrochemicals industries have a great opportunity to have an impact on the journey to net zero.

Direct and indirect CO2 emissions from the chemicals and petrochemicals industries amount to approximately 1.7 gigatonnes, accounting for 5% of total energy-related and process-related CO2 emissions. The main chemicals produced are steam-cracking products, ammonia and methanol.

Fossil fuels are the main raw material for primary petrochemicals, which in turn serve as the building blocks for the plastics, fibres and polymers in our everyday lives.

In 2018, global production of these petrochemicals amounted to 644 megatonnes (Mt). The largest share – 360 Mt – went to the plastics sector, which is forecast to consume as much as 1,000 Mt of petrochemicals by 2050. This kind of growth demands new solutions for recycling plastics.

When it comes to fertilizers, the key ingredient is ammonia. Producing ammonia accounts for 0.4 gigatonnes of CO2 emissions (1.3% of total global emissions). The fertilizer industry uses around 85% of the 200 megatonnes of ammonia produced each year. Around 90% of ammonia is produced using the Haber-Bosch process, which combines nitrogen and hydrogen under high temperatures and pressures. The hydrogen used by the industry mainly comes from steam-reformed natural gas.

At Sumitomo SHI FW, we can support the chemicals and fertilizers industries with cleaner energy and technology that allows them to use less harmful ingredients in production processes.

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Carbon-capture technology is in use as part of the ammonia or hydrogen production process at up to 400 chemical plants around the world. Most of the captured CO2 is released, but some is used for secondary applications. Some 20 facilities worldwide are also storing the carbon they capture.

The industry has three options for decarbonizing to net zero: Using biomass feedstocks together with renewable energy. Using synthetic hydrocarbons as feedstocks, together with renewable energy. Applying carbon capture, utilization and storage technology to existing processes, while using renewable heat and electricity. Final products such as plastics also need to be recycled, or their energy captured through combustion. If combusted, the carbon must be captured too.

Decarbonization options for fertilizer plants are available but come at a considerable cost that’s reflected in market prices for end products. Fossil-based ammonia currently trades at around US$200 per tonne, whereas green ammonia is around US$600 per tonne.

The industry has a two-step option towards net zero. First, they can replace natural-gas-based hydrogen with biomass gasification or electrolysis-based hydrogen to produce green ammonia. They can use green ammonia as an energy carrier to decarbonize other sectors. Green ammonia offers some benefits over pure hydrogen when used in this way.

We can provide the chemicals and petrochemicals industries with captive power plants that run on biomass. There is also a future opportunity to recycle the chemicals used in plastics, either through gasification or pyrolysis.

For the fertilizers sector, we can provide biomass-based captive power plants for the heat needed to create ammonia. And our gasification technology can be used to replace natural-gas based hydrogen with biomass or waste-based feedstock.

As a significant contributor to global carbon emissions, when chemicals producers make the changes described above, they make an important positive difference to the world’s transition to net zero. And there is a clear route for fertilizer producers to play their part too.