Petrochemical building blocks for climate change solutions

Climate change is at the top list of environmental concerns that the world currently faces and in order to avoid severe damage to the planet, greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced in all regions, all over the world. With the help of continuous research and development, the chemical industry is providing new solutions to save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Greenhouse gases - such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxides - are one of the main factors that influence the Earth’s climate. They have significantly increased since the beginning of the industrial revolution, and this is mainly due to human activity, such as the burning of fossil fuels, land use and agriculture.

The higher these factors, the higher the level of energy used and emissions released into the atmosphere.  Less energy use therefore implies less fossil fuel burning, lower CO2 emissions and fewer consequences on climate change.

The chemical industry’s efforts to improve energy efficiency

The chemical industry is an energy-intensive sector with an estimated 9% share of the total production costs of energy use globally. Over the last few decades, the chemical industry has therefore invested in energy efficiency improvement and these reduction efforts have resulted in an improvement in specific energy consumption of over 30% since 1990.

In this regard, the chemical industry is needed to achieve its sustainable development goals and to tackle climate change. For example, petrochemicals account for less than 6% of the total petrol production and are essential building blocks which provide solutions to save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Petrochemicals innovations also contribute to many downstream sectors such as clothing, computers, paper, housing and transportation.

How does petrochemistry reduce household energy use?

Today 75% of the heat inside a building escapes through its external walls; using efficient foam insulation materials can cut down energy costs by as much as 60%.

In the kitchen, lightweight plastic films keep food fresh for longer, and  save energy in transport. Modern plastic packaging is helping to save 42,600,000 tons of CO2 every year in Europe.

A refrigerator is a vital piece of equipment; the energy consumption of refrigerators has declined by 15% over the past 15 years in part thanks to better insulation using new rigid polyurethane foams.

Most teenagers today have computers; digital power factor correction technology enabled by modern chips designed with the help of chemicals helps cut computer energy use as well as reducing carbon footprints. The same is true for electrical energy where 70% of energy can be saved by using compact fluorescent light bulbs rather than conventional bulbs.

Petrochemistry makes a car move lighter thanks to new materials which reduce the weight of automotive parts by 30-50%. Innovative polyamide (nylon) engineering plastics have specifically been developed to replace metal in cars. In addition, a new generation of easy rolling tires containing modern chemical solutions in their tread compound can cut fuel consumption by as much as 8%.

Sustainable energy with the help of petrochemistry

Even wind energy gets help from petrochemistry. Acylic is added into adhesives used to assemble wind turbine blades in order to modify their resistance. Epoxy resins used in the production of rotor blades help modern wind turbines become increasingly efficient. In the short term, wind energy is the most cost-competitive energy in Europe.

These examples demonstrate that the petrochemical industry is a major contributor in building materials for the future of young people and an innovator benefiting the environment. Climate change issues force us to invest in innovative solutions for everyday life concerns. Chemicals can play a leading role in this process.

This topic is discussed further in the Xperimania chat “Tackling the challenge of climate change” (6 November 14.00 CET, online), and at the stands displayed at the Climate Change Exhibition at Expoquimia at the Fira de Barcelona (20-24 October).

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