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Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) for Sustainable Chemical and Polymer Production

A techno-economic investigation commissioned by the members of the Carbon Dioxide Capture & Conversion (CO2CC) Program

See PPT Deck here (as PDF) | See Report TofC here (as PDF)

Because of the CO2CC Program focus on CO2/GHG emission reductions toward industry sustainability, TCGR is sharing access to a Power Point Deck which extracts the important and salient findings from our recently completed techno-economic report entitled, Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) for Sustainable Chemical and Polymer Production. This report was developed as one of three reports delivered in 2020 exclusively to members of our Carbon Dioxide Capture and Conversion (CO2CC) Program.

The Catalyst Group Resources (TCGR) continues to provide forward-looking advice in its new multi-client and select-client reports along with those delivered for its membership programs.

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A critical feature of the CO2CC Program is its members-only techno-economic reports, where topics are selected by ballot and where contents are shaped by members’ Table of Contents inputs.

Figure 1: Environmental and economic performance of methanol production via coal, natural gas and coke-oven gas (COG). Source: Li, 2018 “Life cycle assessment and economic analysis of methanol production from coke oven gas compared with coal and natural gas routes.” Journal of Cleaner Production 185: 299-308

This report documents the breadth of approaches that quantify sustainability improvements and carbon reduction measures for a set of common basic chemicals, intermediates and polymers. Five polymer value chains are covered from feedstock to resin: polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polystyrene (PS) and polyurethanes (PU). Information has been gathered which relates to the life cycle analyses or assessments (LCA), global warming potential (GWP), carbon footprints and other energy related metrics for the production of a number of chemicals, intermediates and polymer value chains. This report summarizes the most impactful methods for decarbonization of these value chains with a range of boundary conditions in the respective LCAs.

Emissions for the production of methanol via different routes are analyzed with the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of methanol changing between -1.37 kgCO2eq/kg and 2.97 kgCO2eq. The use of biorenewables, green hydrogen and carbon capture and storage (CCS) all have a beneficial effect on the GWP. For ethylene, the GWP100 (the global warming potential of a given greenhouse gas over 100 years) of the routes studied range from -1.91 to 1.58 kgCO2eq/kg. Improvements to conventional steam cracking processes, including novel reactors – use of autothermal reforming (ATR) with combined reforming and the use of renewable energy in the processes – provide the best short-term solution for reducing GWP. More step-out techniques such as the Siluria Technologies oxidative coupling (OCM) process or green ethylene or bioethylene have great potential.

For polyethylene, the production of ethylene from recycled polymer has potential, but current recycling costs make it unprofitable. For propylene, use of biorenewables such as wood achieve the lowest end of the GWP range but are very expensive to implement. Mitsui’s new route to biopropylene via isopropanol is lower cost than other biobased production methods for propylene. Steam cracker optimization, as with ethylene, is a viable near-term strategy, and combined with renewable electricity for the process could reduce conventional plant emissions by up to 90%. Polypropylene’s GWP is related directly to that of propylene.

Reducing the GWP of p-Xylene from conventional methods relies on process intensification, rather than a CO2 recovery process. The production green p-Xylene via the BioT-Cat™ process from Anellotech claims to save 70% in p-Xylene emissions. Manufacture of recycled PET (RPET) has a lower GWP100 than other methods, but the recycling process shows poor economics. Ethylene oxide (EO) and propylene oxide (PO), polyether polyols (PETP), polyester polyols (PESP), polyethercarbonate polyols (PECP), natural oil polyols (NOP) and biosuccinic acid (Bio-SA) as well as the corresponding polyurethanes (PU) prepared from PECP, NOP and Bio-SA are also covered in this report.

Green production routes, based on biomass feedstock or renewable energy, are an efficient way of reducing the carbon footprint of chemicals. Companies, like Braskem (green ethylene), CRI (green methanol), India Glycols Inc (green MEG), and Anellotech (green BTX), have developed processes that are able to produce chemicals from renewable sources with a reduced carbon footprint. For polyurethane (PU) chemicals – improved conventional technology such as HPPO and process intensification – are key near-term measures for achieving lower carbon footprints. The findings from this report on the respective polymers provide a guide to improving product sustainability through a holistic value-chain approach.

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By the direction of the member companies (through balloting and other interactive means) and operated by TCGR, the CO2CC Program delivers weekly monitoring communications via email (CO2CC Communiqués), three techno-economic reports (highly referenced and peer reviewed) and scheduled meetings of members (either in-person or via webinar). Access to deliverables is exclusive to members.

In addition to the program deliverables, TCGR works with members to identify and foster competitive advantage and opportunity. This value-added relationship, along with active participation by the membership, leads to improved (or unique) external R&D and commercial investment possibilities.

Don’t be left behind! Align with leading industrial member-companies like BASF, ExxonMobil, Linde, Petrobras, Reliance and Total, among others, in the decarbonization and CO2 utilization space by joining the CO2CC Program today. This is the only way to get TCGR’s in-depth and unparalleled reports.

More information about this and other services of the CO2CC Program can be seen at here. Call +1-215-628-4447 or e-mail Chris Dziedziak at CDziedziak@catalystgrp.com, and we’ll be happy to discuss these and other interesting membership benefits.