Monday, April 23, 2007

Energy and the Chemical Industry

In a previous post, I estimated that the Industrial sector consumes about a third of all energy used in the U.S. I ended with the results of a 2002 survey which identified which particular industries consumed the most energy. In this post I will do a detailed analysis of what was estimated to be the leading energy consumer in the industrial and manufacturing sector: the Chemical industry. The primary data source is a 2000 study from LBL.

Which Chemical products accounted for the most energy consumption in the Chemical industry? In the chart below, the Chemical sector refers to industries classified under SIC Code 28:

Ethylene and co-products:
In the petrochemical industry mostly relatively simple organic chemicals are produced such as ethylene, propylene and benzene. These chemicals (some through intermediates, e.g. mono vinyl chloride or styrene) form the building blocks for many products such as plastics, resins, fibers, detergents, etc. The single most energy-consuming step in the petrochemical industry is the steam cracking of hydrocarbon feedstocks to produce ethylene, propylene, butadiene and aromatics (benzene, toluene and xylenes).
The less petrochemicals we use, and the more we reuse, the less energy is consumed in the manufacturing of these chemical building blocks. Simple examples include cleaning, health and beauty products which have become available even in mainstream retailers.

Ammonia and Nitrogenous Fertilizer Industry
The production of ammonia is the most energy intensive production step in the manufacture of fertilizers and other nitrogen containing products. In the U.S. ammonia is one of the major chemicals produced ... In the U.S. about 80% of the ammonia is used for fertilizer production, the remainder for a variety of products, mainly explosives and plastics. The most important fertilizers produced in the U.S. are ammonium nitrate (AN), nitric acid (NA), urea, compound fertilizers, and liquid ammonia. Ammonium sulfate (AS) is most commonly produced as a co-product of nylon manufacturing. ... The world fertilizer market grows slowly, due to growth especially in developing countries. The world market price of ammonia has been depressed since the late 1980’s due to cheap exports from producers in Central and eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, limiting expansion in the Western World (especially Western-Europe).
In a future post, I will compare the energy demands of conventional and organic agriculture. Ignoring the health advantages cited by proponents of Organic food, we will see that the energy and environmental advantages of Organic agriculture are compelling.

The major markets for chlorine are PVC (37%), inorganic chemicals (22%), other organic chemicals (17%), propylene oxide (7%), pulp and paper (6%), water treatment (6%), solvents (5%). The major markets for caustic are: pulp and paper (26%), soaps and detergents (9%), propylene oxide (9%), petroleum (8%), water treatment (6%), other organic chemicals (13%), inorganic chemicals (12%). ... The production of chlorine gas is an energy intensive chemical process requiring between 25-40 GJ (worldwide average) primary energy per tonne chlorine produced.
Avoiding PVC is a key component of Green Architecture. For a hilarious look into the role of PVC in homebuilding, check out the documentary Blue Vinyl -- a cult classic in the Green Building industry.

Energy Efficiency: Chemical Industry is highly inefficient it its use of energy.
The above energy consumption estimates, include the massive amount of energy lost during production/manufacturing processes:
One of the chemical industry’s biggest—and most misunderstood—business opportunities is the recovery of income lost to energy waste. Out of 3.73 quadrillion Btu of fuel and electricity delivered “to the fence” of chemical industry facilities in 2001, a conservative estimate claims that 37 percent (1.36 quads) was lost in combustion, distribution, and energy conversion activities. At today’s fuel prices of about $7 per MMBtu, those losses equate to over $26 billion.

... The fundamental laws of physics and thermodynamics make some losses unavoidable, but much of this loss is an opportunity to embrace efficient technologies and practices. Every one percent recapture of energy losses saves the chemicals industry over $95 million. Estimates of practical energy savings available to industry range from 10 to 20 percent. Note that this is an industry average—some plants can save more than this range, some less. If the chemical industry recaptured 10 percent of energy waste, this would represent $1.7 billion. Keep in mind that each dollar of energy cost savings is one extra dollar of net income.

... Energy management is a process, not a project. Sure, engineering hardware projects are part of the solution. But energy-smart behaviors, folded into standard operating procedure, represent about 30 percent of potential energy savings.
A detailed analysis (from a separate data source) yields the following interesting graph (the red bars represent energy losses):

I. Energy (in the form of fuel or electricity) is produced for Chemical plants. 27% is lost by the utilities during electricity generation or during the delivery of fuel and electricity.

II. 73% of total energy is delivered "to the fence" of chemical industries. Close to 27% more energy is lost, with the largest loss due to Energy Conversion ("energy is converted to motive energy used by motor drives, pumps, heat exchangers, etc.").

III. 47% total energy available for useful consumption. Another 3% is lost, primarily to space conditioning and heating.

IV. Only 44% of total energy is actually used for Industrial processes!

Conservation and efficiency on the part of homeowners and consumers is something we highlighted in an earlier post. Using the Chemical Industry as a case study, it appears that end-use efficiency is even more important in the industrial sector. Besides the environmental benefits and reasons, the potential financial savings are huge. Why wait for mandates to be imposed when end-use efficiency is such an obvious competitive advantage?

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