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Towards an energy efficient chemistry. Switching from fossil to bio-based products in a life cycle perspective

Fiorentino, Gabriella, Zucaro, Amalia, Ulgiati, Sergio
Energy 2019 v.170 pp. 720-729
bioethanol, biomass, carbon dioxide, case studies, chemical derivatives, chemical industry, energy efficiency, energy recovery, environmental performance, feedstocks, fossils, greenhouse gas emissions, greenhouse gases, recycling
The reduction of energy demand and greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions is a main target of the chemical industry. By implementing Best Practice Technologies (BPTs) (i.e. the most advanced technologies currently in use at industrial scale) as well as by implementing recycling and energy recovery strategies through cogeneration and process intensification, consistent energy savings and CO2 emissions reduction can be achieved in the short to medium term. Long-term additional cuts may arise from development and deployment of “game changer” technologies, that re-invent the way some large-volume chemicals are made. Although still far from commercial maturity and still facing high economic and technical hurdles, switching to the use of non-food biomass as fuel and feedstock in the chemical industry may represent a suitable option. During the transition towards a more energy efficient chemistry, the environmental performance of bio-based products need to be carefully evaluated on a case-by-case basis. In this study, an overview of energy improvement options is provided and the different patterns of bioethanol as fuel to generate energy or as platform chemical to generate chemical derivatives are compared as a case study within a life cycle perspective. The consequences on the environmental sustainability of the chemical industry are envisaged.