Implications of Climate Change for the Petrochemical Industry: Mitigation Measures and Feedstock Transitions

  • Simon J. BennettEmail author
  • Holly A. Page
Reference work entry


For over half a century, society has relied on the products of the organic chemical industry to supply the clothes we wear, the food we eat, our health, housing, transportation, security, and other commodities. Approximately 92 % of organic chemical products are derived from oil and gas. In addition, these same resources are generally used to provide the large quantities of process heat and power needed by the industry. In the modern petrochemical industry, oil and gas inputs for both raw material and process energy compose around 50 % of the operating costs.

Not only is the chemical industry (including petrochemicals) the industrial sector with the highest emissions worldwide, it is also very vulnerable to variations in fossil fuel prices and, potentially, climate policies. Efficiency has long been a major factor in determining competitiveness in petrochemicals, and the sector has a high success rate in reducing its energy intensity. Yet, while global use of oil for energy grew globally by 12 % between 2002 and 2012, the use of oil for chemical feedstocks grew 21 %. It now represents 9 % of total global oil use and 6 % of total global gas use. Reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in an industry that is so dependent on fossil fuels presents a significant challenge.

This chapter introduces the history of the modern chemical industry and the establishment of its close relationship with the oil industry. This relationship has recently come under strain as new sources of oil and gas are increasingly exploited, and growth in hydrocarbon demand for chemical products outpaces that for energy from these sources. It goes on to describe some of the major chemical processes, their GHG emissions, and their geographical variations. The benefits and challenges of several technological mitigation options are discussed. These are recycling, efficiency gains through cogeneration, CO2 capture and storage (CCS), and feedstock switching via biorefining.


Agrol Benzene Biodegradable plastics Biomass Bioplastics Biopol Biorefinery BP C1 chemistry Carbon CCS (carbon dioxide capture and storage) Chemical feedstocks Chemical industry CHP Coal Coal-to-liquids Dematerialization DuPont Energy Energy policy Ethylene Fossil fuels Fuel Gas Green chemistry History of energy ICI Innovation studies Lifecycle assessment Long-run energy use Methanol Oil Olefins Peak oil Petrochemicals Petroleum PLA Plastics Platform chemicals Recycling Refining Renewable energy Renewable raw materials Resource hierarchy Resource sustainability Shell Socio-technical dynamics Solvents Standard oil Sustainable energy Synthesis gas Synthetic fibers Wartime (stimulus to innovation) Ethanol Syngas Industrial ecology 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Imperial Centre for Energy Policy and TechnologyImperial CollegeLondonUK
  2. 2.Imperial CollegeLondonUK
  3. 3.International Energy AgencyParisFrance

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