Opinion

COP26: Can petrochemicals square the circle?

To avoid increasing emissions the industry must embrace not just efficiency but also circularity

Guy Bailey

Head of Intermediates and Applications

Guy leads a team of analysts focused on plastics, fibres and sustainability in the chemicals value chain.

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With Asian demand driving increased consumption, our current projections foresee petrochemicals’ share of energy-related carbon emissions rising from 4% to 10% between 2020 and 2050. More dramatically, should the industry fail to act while other sectors follow a 1.5° temperature path, by mid-century it would account for 40% of global energy-related emissions.

This week’s COP26 briefing explores the challenges and complexity involved in decarbonising the polymer value chain. Fill in the form to read the report, or read on for a quick overview.

For petrochemicals, going round in circles is a good thing

Two-thirds of the potential carbon emissions in the polymer value chain are embedded in plastic rather than being immediately combusted. That makes how plastics are disposed of critical to the sector’s overall carbon footprint. To really move the dial on emissions, the industry needs to radically increase the recycling of plastic waste, since this is almost always the most carbon-efficient approach.

More efficient production can also reduce emissions

The third of emissions generated during production can be mitigated through the use of lighter feedstocks, lower-carbon sources of heat and power and the implementation of carbon capture and utilisation. We expect the initial industry focus to be around efficiency projects and feedstock adjustments, including chemically recycled feedstocks. Longer term, the electrification of steam cracking could be transformational for the sector.

A complex and fragmented industry needs regulation

Under our 1.5° Accelerated Energy Transition (AET-1.5) scenario, the combination of recycled plastics and bio-feedstocks such as pyrolysis oil would displace nearly half of base-case oil demand in the sector. But regulatory guidance, prioritisation and technological evolution will be essential to make such a transition happen. And while most steps to decarbonise the industry will begin in high-income economies, major adoption in Asia will be critical to achieving global scale and hitting future emissions targets.

What’s inside our weekly COP26 briefing?

Our report on the outlook for petrochemicals is the ninth of a series of weekly briefings in the run up to the start of the conference on 1 November. Each report includes:

  • Key takeaways
  • Charts and tables
  • Where to find more information
  • How WoodMac can help your business with issues raised

Fill in the form at the top of the page to read the full report, or scroll down to see what to expect in future editions.

What’s coming up?

6 October: Base Metals

13 October: Electric vehicles and battery raw materials

20 October: The corporate response

27 October: Economics of energy

1-12 November COP26 in Glasgow

Event
WEBINAR: 18 November

Wood Mackenzie COP26 Briefing

Register now