Boron and Decarbonization
To reduce their carbon footprint and make the world cleaner, many chemical industry companies are embracing decarbonization strategies. What can the chemical sector do to contribute significantly to climate change by reducing greenhouse gases from the chemicals manufactured using fossil fuels?
Today, we will review current practices and regulations in an industry-wide drive to meet goals and look at how the latest technological breakthroughs play a pivotal role in shifting toward more sustainable and eco-friendly infrastructure.
We’ll look at decarbonization in general and talk about the role boron can play as boron and boron compounds are energy carriers that can increase energy efficiency.
Even as industry leaders have publicly declared their intention to become carbon-neutral by 2050, in decarbonizing the chemicals industry, industry players struggle to understand the material impacts that becoming carbon-neutral will have on their valuations, operations, and markets over the next few years.
It is also unclear how changes will be implemented during a time when so much remains unknown about what exactly needs changing and how to meet all set goals in a feasible and profitable way for the industry players.
The primary factors that are pushing companies to decarbonize are:
1 Community perception and customer demands
2 Pressure from investors
3 Adherence to new policies and government targets
4 Cost optimization of current operations using unique technology
The chemical industry relies heavily on hydrocarbons used as feedstock and energy sources. Such challenges make it difficult to decrease emissions because companies cannot just turn them off. However, the global impact is potentially profound with advances in decarbonizing chemical production.
External factors also play their part in forcing change. One example is the overwhelming issue of plastic waste plaguing the entire world. As a result, the chemicals industry is under enormous social pressure to cut down on single-use plastics and improve waste disposal methods.
The first practical step towards a more sustainable world involves lowering atmospheric CO2 levels via decommissioning old plants to shift beyond the current carbon cycle.
The second step towards decarbonizing the chemical industry would involve avoiding carbon dioxide altogether, for example, by sourcing hydrogen exclusively from splitting water instead of steam methane reforming and water gas shift reactions.
These two routes transform common feedstocks at the bottom of the free-energy landscape, such as carbon dioxide and water, into desirable commodity chemicals higher up in this same space through the input of renewable sources like solar power and wind.
Additionally, the need for green hydrogen is a focus of efforts but is currently considered unviable. It takes six to eight times as much energy to make it from water than natural gas or oil, and if the European chemical industry were run on this fuel alone, it would require all of Europe’s current power consumption to make it. This is not an option, especially in times of higher energy costs from suppliers such as Russia.
New approaches to meet decarbonization goals start with a focus that needs to be on emissions that the companies can theoretically control. Chemical companies are strangers to carefully engineered, closed-loop systems that capture virtually every emission and by-product from producing dangerous gases such as chlorine or phosgene.
Typically, the limiting factor in these instances is not technology but cost; however, unavoidable emissions – those emitted by customers & third-party suppliers – pose a more perplexing technical challenge for chemical companies.
A classic example is an ammonia plant: if you own one, it’s your responsibility to find ways – through various technologies like scrubbers – to reduce all sorts of nitrogen oxide compounds into less harmful substances after they’re released during their course of business.
Using digital tools in the energy sector to manage power resources could improve how we manage our power resources. These advancements will help us predict outages better, visualize fault lines and load swings, and efficiently allocate our limited supplies to last longer. The industry has always been good at managing its natural resource supply but may be able to do even more with predictive analytics powered by artificial intelligence (AI).
Utilizing sustainable feedstocks to produce energy is considered an alternative for energy production but is limited to a few applications because they compete with food, biofuels, and other uses.
These sustainable resources are also hindered by physical limitations caused by soil erosion, water shortage, and land usage. Their resource efficiency leaves much to be desired as well- this makes them an unpopular choice in today’s world, where we have many competing needs fighting over finite resources.
We can see an example of how difficult it is to produce methanol by looking at what goes into building a single ton. For instance, eight tons of sugar are required for a ton of methanol, and the raw materials must travel long distances before being processed.
The production of virgin materials significantly contributes to greenhouse emissions, causing climate change. If people stopped producing new plastics and recycled used ones, the problem would be substantially reduced with mechanical recycling or chemical.
The downside is an increase in pollution due to littering as there will not be any more room in landfills, which can negatively affect human health through contact or inhaling toxic fumes at the time of disposal or by residents nearby.
Recycling materials can benefit the environment, and it is about time we begin to notice. Unlike other forms of waste, recyclable material typically does not cause any harm as long as it is disposed of properly. In addition, many things that would otherwise end up in landfills often find a new life through this process.
While many of the approaches described earlier can curb up to 40% of carbon emissions, companies can only reduce a significant part of carbon emissions with the availability of cost-friendly green fuels in abundance to meet the perpetual demands of the industry, which will then lead to the reduction of carbon dioxide.
The chemical industry is looking at recycling to a greater or lesser degree worldwide with its commitment both to decarbonization and recycling resources like plastics into green fuel sources. For example, one major European company, BASF Group, recently pledged $2 billion towards research over five years at an institute it established specifically for advancing methanol technology.
At the government level, the Chinese government is doing its part to reduce plastic pollution. For example, they have announced a plan to ban single-use plastics in the country. The new law prohibits non-biodegradable bags and requires producers of other forms of single-use products to find alternatives or incur heavy fines and potential legal proceedings.
Boron can help as an energy carrier to increase efficiency as a lot of energy is lost during transmission, especially when we talk about the energy produced in the deserts of Europe. Boron – a versatile element – has helped create a more eco-friendly future with its wide range of uses in nearly every industry worldwide.
In recent studies, researchers found that Boron can replace hydrogen because of its better energy-carrying capabilities, improving the overall efficiency of renewable energy plants worldwide. While its current applications are limited to solar energy, Boron and its compounds undergo extensive research and development to improve existing technology and develop better alternatives.
As pressure mounts to change, the prospects of a low-carbon and circular economy are becoming more feasible. Governments are starting to see that enacting policies will only create political capital for them in their fight against climate action problems when they become increasingly urgent.
It becomes more apparent every day that we’ll soon have an opportunity to establish a new economic system that supports our environment while delivering growth on sustainable terms.
But this isn’t yet talking about what needs to be done; instead, there’s an emerging consensus among regulators and businesses themselves – many realizing how good sustainability can be for enterprises and profitability. So, for example, automobile companies have been perfecting hybrid electric vehicles in the last years after seeing the immense success of Tesla and how it has successfully commercialized electric cars as a lucrative option in the United States.