"Variations on a sunset #6 : Chemical explosion" by kevin dooley is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The Awards For Chemical & Refining Decarbonization Go To…

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As I was waiting in the CleanTechnica cafe for my plant-based smoothie (“No Dairy – Dare You!”), I saw my colleague, Steve Hanley walk in. I immediately chatted him up about my frustration as I was drafting out this article about chemical and refining awards — part of the new $6 billion Biden-Harris administration industrial decarbonization program. Described as opportunities for “makers of metal, paper, and glass” to cut planet-warming emissions, the awards are largely being funneled to established, hugely profitable megacorporations. Most have some connection to the fossil fuel industry. Several are grounded in sketchy applications like green hydrogen and carbon capture.

Steve reminded me that politics and clean energy are unalterably intertwined these days, so much so that the impending climate emergency is being subsumed by lobbyists who are unwilling to address it with bold new rules. And it’s not just the US that plays pawn to these kingmakers — most world leaders are content to issue press releases about new climate goals while continuing their support for extracting and burning fossil fuels.

On one hand, we have fossil fuel companies and their subsidiaries making record profits, and, on the other hand, taxpayers are subsidizing their emissions-spewing operations through the opaque cloak of climate action.

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Producing US industrial materials requires vast quantities of energy — roughly equivalent to the total primary energy demand of the entire US. For example, the production of plastics — a key group of chemical sector products — has increased by more than 90% since the millennium. A wide range of fuels is used to generate heat, provide raw material inputs, sustain chemical reactions, and drive mechanical equipment. If these industries are to contribute to a sustainable future pathway for the energy system, their emissions must fall precipitously, according to the IEA and many others — even if there is an increase in demand for their outputs.

Individual technical options, or “pathways,” for decarbonizing specific chemical and refining industries are necessary. Sometimes aligning investment and innovation cycles in heavy industries like these helps to reduce the residual emissions burden from existing assets in these sectors. That is one purported defense for the newest way that the US taxpayer dollars are propping up the naked greed of fossil fuel interests.

You decide: here’s the list of chemical and refining awards that have been designated by the recent $6 billion federal investment, including specific projects, locations, award amounts, and companies.

Baytown Olefins Plant Carbon Reduction Project, Baytown, Texas: Up to $331.9 million, ExxonMobil Corporation

The Baytown Olefins Plant Carbon Reduction Project, led by ExxonMobil, would enable the use of hydrogen in place of natural gas across high heat-fired equipment using new burner technologies for ethylene production in Baytown, Texas. Ethylene is an important chemical feedstock in the production of textiles, synthetic rubbers, and plastic resins, with applications in packaging, electronics, and vehicles. The equipment modifications aim to enable the use of up to 95% clean hydrogen fuel. When fully implemented, the modifications would expect to avoid 2.5 million metric tons of carbon emissions per year — equal to more than 50% of the plant’s total emissions — and would reduce criteria air pollutants.

The brief suggests that demonstrating clean hydrogen fuel switching in the largest ethylene plant in the US would help de-risk one of the most viable decarbonization solutions for large, existing industrial facilities, prove the use of clean hydrogen in industrial processes, and provide a pathway for decarbonizing the chemical industry, which is responsible for more than one-third of the US industrial sector’s carbon emissions. An estimated 140 current Baytown Olefins Plant workers would be trained in the use of hydrogen. As part of its Community Benefits Plan, Exxon plans to create 3 flagship programs, including a new training center to expand non-traditional educational pathways for residents, a Teen Engineering & Tech Center teaching space for hands-on learning and academic support in STEM fields, and a local business development program that includes a Small Business Support Center.

Chemical Production Electrification and Heat Storage,  Calvert City, Kentucky: Up to $35.2 million, ISP Chemicals, LLC and Ashland Company

The project plans to replace natural gas boilers with electric heat delivered with a thermal battery, reducing GHG emissions associated with steam generation by nearly 70%. This project intends to demonstrate electrification with thermal heat storage as a scalable, highly replicable, readily deployable, and customizable decarbonization solution for moderate heat processes across multiple hard-to-decarbonize sectors. This project would demonstrate the ability to navigate challenges that currently present a barrier to electrification of high-temperature thermal processes, including reliability, efficiency improvements, and the ability to leverage affordable off-peak electricity rates for a 24/7 operation.

Ashland workers are unionized under the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), which would have a significant role in workforce development. Ashland has met with IAM leadership at the local and national level to discuss workforce development needs, and their partnership expects to support thermal battery skills development with a training program.

Novel CO2 Utilization for Electric Vehicle Battery Chemical Production, US Gulf Coast: Up to $95 million, The Dow Chemical Company

The project, led by The Dow Chemical Company, plans to design and construct a facility with the intent to capture and utilize approximately 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year to produce essential components of electrolyte solutions needed for domestic lithium-ion batteries. This project is a demonstration of how to capture and utilize carbon dioxide from ethylene oxide manufacturing; it would also provide supply chain resilience by establishing a domestic manufacturing base for the rapidly expanding US electric vehicle and power storage markets.

This project is expected to create roughly 50 permanent manufacturing jobs and approximately 600 construction jobs.

Polyethylene Terephthalate Recycling Decarbonization Project, Longview, Texas: Up to $375 million, Eastman Chemical Company

The project, led by Eastman, plans to construct a first-of-a-kind plastic molecular recycling facility capable of taking products that are typically landfilled or incinerated, like polyester trays, colored and opaque bottles, and fabrics, and turn them into virgin-quality polyethylene terephthalate (PET)—a material that is in high demand for use in packaging, film, and fiber applications. The facility plans to use thermal energy storage combined with on-site solar power to decarbonize process heating operations, resulting in a product with 70% lower carbon intensity compared to fossil virgin PET, and approximately a 90% reduction when including avoided incineration emissions. The thermal battery technology at this scale represents a cross-cutting opportunity to electrify and decarbonize high-temperature process heat across industry sectors.

The project plans to support approximately 1,000 construction jobs and 200 new permanent jobs. Through the Branches of Hope initiative, Eastman will support the renovation of the Paula Martin Jones Recreation Center that is underutilized; after renovation, it will serve as a hub for community outreach, workforce training, and resource for its community partners.

Star e-Methanol, Texas Gulf Coast: Up to $100 million, Orsted P2X US Holding LLC

The project, led by a US subsidiary of Orsted, plans to use captured carbon dioxide from a local industrial facility to produce e-methanol to reduce the carbon footprint for hard-to-electrify sectors like shipping. Orsted’s facility is estimated to produce up to 300,000 metric tons of e-methanol per year and would reduce the carbon footprint by 80% or more than traditional production methods. This project expects to prove out the supply and demand for clean hydrogen-derived alternative fuels for the marine shipping and transportation sector. These sectors currently rely on energy-intensive fossil-derived fuels to move the world’s goods.

The Star e-Methanol project is estimated to create 300 construction jobs and 50 permanent jobs. Orsted has committed to working with the University of Houston to develop a curriculum around zero-carbon fuels and the hydrogen economy.

Sustainable Ethylene from CO2 Utilization with Renewable Energy (SECURE), US Gulf Coast: Up to $200 million, T.EN Stone & Webster Process Technology, Inc.

The project, led by T.EN Stone & Webster Process Technology, Inc., plans to demonstrate an integrated process to utilize captured carbon dioxide from ethylene production — an important building block for many products — by applying a biotech-based process and green hydrogen to create clean ethanol and ethylene. LanzaTech’s Gas Fermentation technology, previously supported by ARPA-E, can also be deployed in any industry with carbon dioxide emissions, allowing other industries to capture and upcycle carbon dioxide instead of emitting it to the atmosphere or needing to sequester it.

The project expects to provide 200 construction jobs and 40 permanent jobs with benefits and training opportunities. Once the site is finalized, the project aims to hire from the local area with a focus on residents of disadvantaged communities. T.EN and LanzaTech plan to approach community groups, unions, and labor groups to negotiate, review, and update agreements for quality jobs and community collaboration at the host site.

Syngas Production from Recycled Chemical Byproduct Stream, Freeport, Texas: Up to $75 million, BASF Corporation

The Syngas Production from Recycled Chemical Byproduct Streams project, led by BASF, plans to recycle liquid byproducts into syngas, which will be used as a low-carbon feedstock for BASF’s Freeport operations. BASF expects to use plasma gasification and renewable power to replace natural gas-fired incineration, decreasing carbon dioxide emissions at the BASF Freeport site by up to an estimated 90%. By demonstrating plasma gasification, BASF would enable uptake for a technology that is widely able to recycle liquid byproducts into additional production feedstock like syngas or hydrogen, supporting the transition toward a low-carbon and more circular chemical production.

This project plans to improve local air quality and create additional permanent jobs at the BASF Freeport manufacturing site, which already supports 1,600 employees and contractors.


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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Substack: https://carolynfortuna.substack.com/.

Carolyn Fortuna has 1311 posts and counting. See all posts by Carolyn Fortuna