The state of the environment is of major concern within big business and to the ordinary man on the street. Often a lack of understanding surrounding petrochemicals means that the industry is accused of being the sole cause of the world’s environmental problems, but that’s simply not the case.
According to a recent article on Petrochemistry.net, for every unit of greenhouse gas emitted by the industry, 2-3 units of emission savings are enabled by technologies and products which the petrochemical industry provided to consumers and other industries.
In July 2009 the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA) released a global report which highlighted just how important a role the chemical sector plays in reducing CO2 emissions through renewable energy and energy efficiency applications. Two of the most significant of these applications are coating for lightweight packaging and insulation, whilst emission savings on greenhouse gases enabled by the industry are more than double the volume of the emissions it produces.
Petrochemicals and Energy Efficiency
At present, only around 9% of total production costs within the petrochemical industry are spent on energy usage, although the cost of energy to create some forms of petrochemicals can be as much as 75%. As a result the chemicals industry has invested billions into energy efficiency over the past few decades.
Although the primary motive for doing this has been to save money, today the industry is increasingly recognising the importance of efficiency in terms of the environment and over the last two decades has taken steps to improve energy efficiency through the introduction of new innovations and more effective management and since 1990, the industry has seen specific energy consumption improve by 30%.
In conjunction with environmental and economic policy, as well as the Responsible Care approach which all European petrochemical companies must take into account, in 2001 the EU set an objective of a further reduction of emissions of 30% by 2010, which the industry has achieved.
European Parliament Directives
In 2008 the European Parliament published proposals for a new climate change package to take effect after 2012. The package sets out strict guidelines surrounding how the petrochemicals industry operates. Although the new package is yet to be politically and legally translated, it tasks the 27 European member states with reducing their CO2 emissions by 20% within the next seven years.
However, many people within the industry feel that conditions for exposed sectors are not precise enough and during the 2011 UN Climate Conference it was agreed that new talks would take place to solidify exactly what the obligations of the pertrochemical industry are in terms of emissions. Meanwhile, the European petrochemicals companies continue to work towards lessening the damage the industry does to the environment by looking at ways that energy efficiency can be improved in other sectors, for example by developing polymers to improve outside insulation on buildings and developing chemicals that will make insulation materials on appliances like fridges more effective.
James Reeve is a petrochemicals industry expert and regularly blogs on behalf of industrial fittings manufacturer Waverley Brownall.