Decarbonization of the Chemical Industry through Electrification: Barriers and Opportunities



The chemical industry is a major source of economic productivity and employment globally and among the top 3 industrial sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, along with steel and cement. As global demand for chemical products continues to grow, there is an urgency to develop and deploy sustainable chemical production pathways and re-consider continued investment in current emissionintensive production technologies. This Perspective describes the challenges and opportunities to decarbonize the chemical industry via electrification powered by the low-emission electric power sector, both in the near-term and long-term, and discusses four technological pathways ranging from the more mature direct substitution of heat with electricity and use of hydrogen to technologically less mature, yet potentially more selective approaches based on electrochemistry and plasma. Finally, we highlight the key elements of integrating an electrified industrial process with the power sector to leverage process flexibility to reduce energy costs of chemical production and provide valuable power grid support services. Unlocking such plant-to-grid coordination and the four electrification pathways has significant potential to facilitate rapid and deep decarbonization of the chemical industry sector.