Low-carbon technologies projects: mapping investments and projects of the European chemical industry
Take a “low-carbon industrial project journey” through Europe: discover our map!
As recognised in the European Green Deal, energy-intensive industries are indispensable to Europe’s economy. And, among these energy intensive industries, the chemical sector plays a crucial role: it is the “industry of industries,” which supplies essential building blocks for many key value chains, including clean tech.
“The chemical sector has a strategic role in the European economy. Most goods that are manufactured in Europe rely on chemicals for a wide range of various functions.”The Transition pathway for the chemical industry (p.55)
Today, Europe hosts tens of thousands of chemical companies of all sizes, from micro and small enterprises, up to large multinationals. All these companies combined employ over 1 million people and make the EU the second largest chemicals producer in the world.
Our sector holds the key to the sustainable, autonomous and competitive Europe of tomorrow: we create the molecules for our wind turbines and batteries, we produce the very core elements for microchips and state-of-the-art medical devices. And as the needs of our society grow and evolve, so does the chemical industry.
Aiming to keep growing in Europe and with Europe whilst in fierce competition with other world regions, and to support the industrial manufacturing of key technologies in the EU, the European Chemical Sector has already started its transformational journey by deploying innovative technologies and new solutions across different member states.
However, this transformation is not an easy task. The Chemical Transition Pathway outlines almost 200 concrete actions for us to take, and these actions require billions of additional investments between now and 2050.
The right incentives-based industrial policy will encourage sustainable investment and can support Europe’s global competitiveness. It can confirm Europe as an attractive place for our industry to invest and help us make the goals of the Green Deal Industrial Plan for the Net-Zero Age a reality.
The European chemical industry was one of the first sectors to support the European Green Deal and has the ambition to become climate neutral by 2050. As a complex sector facing many challenges, there is no simple solution, no silver bullet technology to fulfil this ambition. The pathway towards climate neutrality requires a multitude of actions, a multitude of technologies and solutions, and a multitude of projects.
Disclaimers & technologies
Our “Low-carbon technologies projects map” is a living document. It is updated twice a year with the support and contribution of Cefic members. This map is based on publicly announced industrial projects. Any questions on a specific project should be directed to the companies involved.
The map is not an exhaustive list and does not feature every single initiative and project planned, started and/or executed by the chemical sector. The latest update was done in July 2023. The next update is scheduled for Q1 2024.
Biochemicals: Biomass-derived chemicals are defined as chemical products that are wholly or partly derived from materials of biological origin (e.g. plants, algae, crops, trees, marine organisms and biological waste). Check out Cefic’s sector group BioChem Europe to learn more on biochemicals and current standards.
Carbon Capture and Storage: Carbon Capture Storage (CCS) involves the capture, transport and permanent storage of CO2. Our views on this technology are described here.
Carbon Capture and Utilisation: Carbon Capture and Utilisation (CCU) is a process in which CO2 is captured and then used to produce a new product (source: IPCC). For example, it can be used to produce feedstock for chemicals and polymers. You can read more here.
E-cracker: Refers to electrically heated steam crackers. Steam crackers are at the beginning of many value chains as they are used to “crack” long hydrocarbon chains into shorter ones, then used to produce basic chemicals. Electrically heated steam cracker furnaces could potentially bring a significant reduction of CO2. Nevertheless, e-cracker related technologies are still in development, and industrial scale projects are expected to be announced in the coming months/years.
Efficiency: This category covers a broad array of technologies and activities that make processes smoother, faster, less energy and/or resources intensive and, generally, more efficient. The chemical sector aims to maintain high levels of resource and energy efficiency. Read more on resource efficiency here.
Hydrogen & derivatives: The chemical sector is already a major consumer and producer of hydrogen and high purity hydrogen can be used during chemical processes both as a feedstock and as an energy carrier. This category covers both projects aiming to produce hydrogen, and projects that foresee the use of low emission hydrogen as feedstock to produce other chemicals. Read more here.
Recycling (chemical): Feedstock recycling, also known as chemical recycling, is a process where the chemical structure of a polymer is changed and converted into chemical building blocks, including monomers, that are then used again as a secondary raw material in chemical processes. Read more on chemical recycling here.
Recycling (mechanical): Mechanical recycling refers to the processing of plastics waste into secondary raw material or products without significantly changing the material’s chemical structure (Source: PlasticsEurope).
Renewable and low-carbon electricity and PPAs: With 165 TWh of electricity consumption in 2021, the chemical sector is the largest industrial electricity consumer in the EU. And with further electrification of processes planned, the need for electricity is expected to grow. This category features projects covering installation/acquisition of renewable and low carbon energy sources and/or signature of new Power Purchasing Agreements (PPA). PPAs are private agreements between producer and consumer of electricity.
Waste/biomass to energy: Waste-to-energy scheme means incineration of waste with recovery of generated energy. Biomass to energy refers to biomass used in the production of energy. This category covers also the use of waste and biomass to produce biofuels.
What is the economic footprint ?
As mentioned in the Chemical Industry Transition Pathway recently released by the European Commission, transforming the chemical sector requires huge investments. Next to the need for high capital investment (CAPEX) for the technologies, the transition requires also high operational costs (OPEX) to modify production processes and to acquire alternative energy and feedstock.
“The Processes4Planet Partnership (P4P) under Horizon Europe estimates that EU-wide investments needed to develop the first of a kind commercial low-carbon and circular technologies in the chemical industry are in the region of EUR 218-238 billion. It also estimates that additional investments in the order of trillions are needed to fully deploy these technologies across Europe including also electric-power production, supply chains and transport. The P4P partnership also estimates that ensuring the operation of industrial plants based on low-carbon technologies will require an average additional investment of EUR 3.9-5.5 billion per year.”Transition Pathway for the EU Chemical Industry p. 18
The cumulative economic footprint of the projects currently listed in the map amounts to several € billions. Some of the projects have received public (national and European) funds. Further questions on the projects should be directed to the companies involved.
The way forward: a transition pathway for the chemical sector
On the pathway to 2050, ahead of us a double-twin transition: we are going climate neutral, circular, and digital while also transitioning to safe and sustainable chemicals. What we are facing is the biggest transformation in the history of the sector: we need to change how we produce and what we produce in less than 30 years.
The challenge is unprecedented and requires billions of investments.
This is why we asked the European Commission to develop, together with us and other stakeholders, a dedicated Transition Pathway for our sector. It provides a concrete roadmap which puts together all the pieces of the EU legislative agenda. It lays out all conditions that need to be in place to enable the transformation.
Just like the chemical industry is one of the cornerstones of the European economy and its transformation impacts many other industrial sectors throughout the EU and may inspire other world regions, the Chemical Transition Pathway is one of the cornerstones of the European Green Deal, and we can expect a far-reaching echo from its unravelling.