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September 26, 2022

How to decarbonize the chemical industry

With an ambitious commitment to go net zero by 2040, Topsoe is ready to take the lead in chemicals' intricate route toward green. But what does it take for an energy intensive chemical company to get to zero? We’ve asked Louise Bjerregaard Nielsen, Topsoe’s Head of Sustainability, to give us the insights.

So, Louise, is there a silver bullet?

“The short answer to that is no. At Topsoe, we understand the challenges, and we have a clear vision of what we want to achieve, but we don’t know the details of our route to get there – at least, not yet. What’s interesting about Chemicals is that we work both as an enabler for the decarbonization of hard to abate sectors – while being a hard-to-abate sector ourselves. Chemicals play such a pivotal role in our society and industrial infrastructure – today and in the future - that we can’t just scale down. We need to transform.”

Many industries today have a good understanding of their role in reaching Net-Zero by 2050 as set out in the Paris agreement. Are Chemicals any different?

“No – the industry understands its role and responsibility. But the complexity is enormous, and if we look at the Science Based Targets initiative for example – there are no sector guidelines for chemicals. It is simply too difficult. It’s also no secret that the journey to net-zero for Chemicals will come with a significant cost and effort. But that is not holding Topsoe back. We have a vision to become a global leader in decarbonization – that doesn’t just apply for the zero carbon and low carbon solutions we provide our customers; it also applies for ourselves.”

So how do you go about this at Topsoe?

“Well, we are turning a lot of stones to evaluate which actions are feasible and can create most value for money. But there are some main pathways. We are first and foremost looking at how we can optimize our production processes to eliminate the emissions from our chemical processes.

Secondly, we are looking at investing in renewable energy, just like a lot of other companies – so renewable energy build-out is quite urgent across the board in terms of decarbonizing hard-to-abate sectors.

When it comes to our electricity consumption, we have set ourselves a target to transition to 80% renewable electricity by 2025. It is harder for us to reduce the emissions associated with fuel combustion, i.e., the natural gas that we consume. Electrification is not always the answer for companies like ours that require heat above 1,000 degrees Celsius in our processes.

Topsoe just announced its commitment to going Net-Zero in 2040. That includes Topsoe’s value chain. How will you reach that target?

“One thing is for sure - we can’t do this without partnerships. We rely on our suppliers and customers to take some of the same initiative as us, and together we will learn and develop as an industry.

We can see that it is becoming an important aspect of license to operate for some suppliers, and they are primarily driven by the benefits decarbonization brings in terms of funding and customer requirements. For our customers, the situation is a bit different – they are facing pressure from the public, and they also driven by the opportunities to access green funding, but the regulatory frameworks will be key in pushing their transition to low carbon operations.”

How can the chemical industry enable the decarbonization of other industries?

“From an overall perspective, our industry provides materials used for production of green hydrogen, manufacturing of solar panels and wind turbines – but also a ton of products our welfare society depend on. So, chemicals are a key enabler in finding sustainable solutions beneficial to society.

At Topsoe, we can make a significant difference across the full energy value chain with our offering of technologies needed to transform renewable electricity, biomass, and waste into green hydrogen, green ammonia, eMethanol, eFuels and bio-based fuels that will power a sustainable future. And we are well underway with helping customers globally with revamping their oil refineries to produce bio-based diesel and SAF, building plants for low carbon hydrogen production, and once our SOEC electrolyzer manufacturing plant is up and running, we’ll also be able to deliver electrolysis to produce green hydrogen and derivatives. So, the future looks bright.”

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