Decarbonizing the chemical industry

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The chemical industry accounts for 25 % of French industry’s greenhouse gas emissions. The steam cracking for olefins production and the steam reforming for the synthesis of ammonia represent nearly half of its emissions. The main buyers of these chemicals are respectively the plastic (65 %) and the fertilizer (80 %) sectors.

The plastic industry represents a turnover of 30 billion euros and provides jobs to 130 000 people in France. Due to their large range of properties, these materials are used for all end-use markets, mainly packaging, building and construction and automotive. Less than a quarter of the plastics produced are recycled and their burning accounts for more than half of their lifecycle emissions. As a result, decarbonizing the plastic industry requires not only new raw materials and energy resources but also an increase in waste recovery. Biofuels such as green electricity and recycled materials are keys to enable the development of a sustainable plastic industry. Eventually, carbon capture and storage is worth considering, due to the concentrated emissions at the geographical scale of the French industry and at the technological scale over the steam crackers.

The chlorine production is also mainly dedicated to the plastic industry (60%). The electrolysis process requires a large amount of electrical energy: although the carbon intensity of the French electricity is low, the decarbonization of the steam production (50 % of the emissions) can still be improved.

The fertilizers industry represents a turnover of 2.1 billion euros and provides jobs to 5 500 people in France. The market is globalized: half of the fertilizers are imported and this figure continues to rise as a result of international competition. As a result, decarbonizing the fertilizer sector is strategic to avoid carbon leakage and a rise in the country’s carbon footprint. The fertilizer synthesis is made from ammonia, which requires the production of hydrogen. This last process concentrates most emissions within the sector. Green hydrogen production will be key in the decarbonization process. The use of biogas (as energy source and reactant) and the development of new low-carbon procesesses (electrolysis) are worth considering. Finally, it would be worth considering carbon capture and storage.

In March 2021, ADEME launched the “Sector transition plan for the chemical industry” project, in close collaboration with France Chimie, to work on the various decarbonization pathways in the sector (technologies, costs, markets / jobs). The results are expected in mid 2022.

Find out about the PTS Chemical Industry Memo in the Publications.

Find out more about Sectorial Transition Plans.