Towards carbon neutrality: Transition pathways for the Chinese ethylene industry

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Ethylene is one of the most important products in the emissions-intensive petrochemical industry. Decarbonizing the ethylene industry is thus important for achieving global carbon neutrality. This study is the first to explore future long-term zero-emissions production pathways for the ethylene industry in China, the world's biggest ethylene producer. An optimization model was built in the context of China's carbon neutrality target of 2060. Four scenarios were developed where the policy ambitions for climate mitigation and for plastic management including waste were varied. Based on this, authors assessed the cumulative total emissions, technology options, future geographical location of ethylene production, and policy challenges associated with each scenario. This is also the first time that scope 3 emissions from waste incineration are included, motivated by the short lifetime of most ethylene products. Results show the cumulative CO2 emissions for the scenarios differ considerably, ranging from 4.3 to 7.8 Gt, even if carbon neutrality by 2060 is achieved in all scenarios. The results suggest that ambitious plastic focused policies can result in lower costs and less cumulative emissions compared to ambitious climate focused policies. The results demonstrate the importance of adopting CCS for waste incineration. This reduces cumulative CO2 emissions by up to 2 Gt. However, reduced overall demand and increased recycling rates should be priority options due to CCS challenges. Results suggest Chinese ethylene industry should adopt a mixed portfolio of production technologies, where the share of emission-intensive coal-based methanol-to-olefins is limited. These findings on decarbonization pathways can contribute to achieving the Paris agreement.

TidskriftRenewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews
StatusPublished - 2024 juli

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