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Alternative carbon feedstock for the chemical industry? - Assessing the challenges posed by the human dimension in the carbon transition

Lee, Roh Pin
Journal of cleaner production 2019 v.219 pp. 786-796
biomass, carbon, carbon dioxide, chemical industry, circular economy, coal, electricity, feedstocks, heat, humans, renewable energy sources, surveys, wastes, Germany
Our society faces a carbon dilemma whereby there is an imbalance between our need for carbon and the dark side of its utilization. Unlike electricity, heat and mobility sectors where a transition towards renewable energy sources is possible, the chemical industry has no alternative to carbon sources for its production. This paper carried out a case analysis of the German chemical industry. The objective is to identify challenges posed by the human dimension for its carbon transition from a dependence on imported carbon resources towards cleaner and sustainable production using domestic primary and secondary carbon feedstock alternatives. Findings from a representative survey study carried out in Germany in October 2017 showed widespread public misconceptions regarding what are carbon sources and a lack of mental associations regarding the use of domestic biomass, coal, waste and CO2 as feedstock alternatives for chemical production. Furthermore, significant regional difference in support/resistance for coal-to-chemicals as a carbon transition route is also observed. This paper represents a first effort to bridge the gap between transition and circular economy research to facilitate the early identification of human-related barriers to a carbon transition for the chemical industry.