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Mitigating CO2 Emissions from the Organic Chemical and Plastics Industry

The chemical industry is a major and growing source of CO2 emissions and is currently responsible for 6.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This paper advances the Global Change Analysis Model’s (GCAM) portrayal of chemicals to assess a full set of decarbonization options and identify specific actions that the organic chemical sector can take to reduce emissions.  

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A diagram showing the inputs production, and waste treatment of organic chemicals.

The study finds that the combination of strategies used to reduce emissions from organic chemical process heat accounts for ∼24% of the net emission reductions. Process heat, or “the use of thermal energy to produce, treat or alter manufactured goods,” paired with carbon capture and storage (CCS), accounts for 55% of these reductions. Other strategies include using biogenic carbon as a fuel for process heat and increasing the use of alternative process heat technologies, such as low or zero-emission hydrogen and electricity. Additionally, reductions in feedstock emissions – the emissions from the fossil fuels used to manufacture products – account for ∼11% of the net emission reductions due to CO2 policy. This shows that decarbonizing process heat is more cost-effective than the path for emissions from carbon feedstock, since reducing feedstock emissions shows a smaller overall reduction by 2050. 

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A graph showing CO2 emissions reductions in million metric tons per year for the global organic chemical sector under an economy-wide net-zero CO2 constraint by 2050.
CO2 emissions reductions in million metric tons per year for the global organic chemical sector under an economy-wide net-zero CO2 constraint by 2050.

The only scenario that delivers net-negative CO2 emissions from the organic chemical sector by 2070 combines greater use of biogenic feedstocks with a continued reliance on landfilling of waste plastic, versus recycling or incineration both of which have trade-offs. 

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Mitigating CO2 Emissions from the Organic Chemical and Plastics Industryull paper