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☁️ "Decarbonizing a Pervasive Industry: Petrochemicals"

The Big Switch

Photo by Deborath Ramos L / Unsplash

Table of Contents

Host: Dr. Melissa Lott
Guest: Deborah Gordon | Senior Principal | Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI)
Category: ☁️ Carbon Reduction | Petrochemicals

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[1:16] ML: “You probably use petrochemicals every single day. These are chemicals that are actually made out of oil and through a process called refining that oil is turned into plastics, but also a bunch of other stuff. I'm talking about household cleaning products and drugs, the fertilizers that we use to grow our food, and even the materials in our clothes. These chemicals are quite literally woven into the fabric of everything around us. And this industry produces a lot of emissions. Overall, 12% of all the oil that's pulled out of the ground today is used to make chemicals. And the chemicals industry generates more than 10% of all the CO2 emissions from the industrial sector.

[5:36] DG: “This industry is on a growth curve. It's projected to grow 3-4% annually, maybe double by 2040. So this is going to get harder before it gets easier. This industry grew up in 1930. We were not thinking about climate change in 1930. And so I think that the proposition now is remaking this industry amid climate change, because we can't get off of everything quickly.”

[7:51] DG: “The big ones are ammonia, which I think people would know because of household cleaning products. Ethylene is a huge intermediary that fans out into so many petrochemical products, it's probably one of the most valuable. […] Up the chain one is propylene that makes PVC piping. So these are like everyday things […] that you have no idea what petrochemicals have made them.”

[8:58] DG: “In petrochemicals the consumption of them, like your plastic cup, is the easiest most visible part of this chain. But how it got there and what happens to it later, is really difficult to know. There's so little transparency associated with both the lead up to that product. […] It's not just the solid petrochemicals, but even all the liquid petrochemicals [that then often get disposed of poorly]. They go into these resource recovery sites, they sometimes get burned, they sometimes get stored, they sometimes get […]thrown down drains. It's really all the above.”

[10:30] DG: “For the petrochemical industry, the long term goal, I would say, is a combination of green hydrogen and CO2 captured from the atmosphere. […] You're using the electrolysis of water with renewables to create hydrogen. You're recombining hydrogen and carbon to make certain things that we can't get off of.”

[11:32] DG: “Heat is instrumental. I would say it's the most important part of how all these chemicals go from raw feedstock to stuff. And that heat […] has to be produced by renewables. There's just no way around it.”

[16:58] DG: “We really have to […] remake this industry surgically. And we can't just say we're not going to demand these things. I think that's too simple. We can use less of certain things. […] We can substitute other things. […] But it's going to be very hard for us to say, tomorrow, I don't need anything that oil and gas springs.”

Rating: ⚡⚡⚡

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify | Google
🕰️ 19 min | 🗓️ 03/24/2022
✅ Time saved: 17 min