Greenhouse gas emissions from petrochemical and plastics production are set to rise 20% by 2030 and 30% by 2050, enough to undercut emission reductions in other parts of the global economy, according to a report earlier this month by the International Energy Agency.
“When we look at the years to come, the petrochemical sector is by far the largest driver of global oil demand growth, much higher than cars, much higher than trucks, aviation, and shipping,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol.
“Our economies are heavily dependent on petrochemicals, but the sector receives far less attention than it deserves,” he added in a prepared statement. “Petrochemicals are one of the key blind spots in the global energy debate, especially given the influence they will exert on future energy trends.”
The report finds that petrochemicals “are currently the largest industrial energy consumer and the third-largest industrial emitter of greenhouse gas emissions,” the New York Times reports. And “the main driver of the petrochemical industry’s growing climate footprint, according to the report, will be plastics. Worldwide, roughly 300 million metric tons of plastic are produced each year.” Demand for plastics has nearly doubled since 2000, notes fossil industry publication JWN Energy, outpacing other bulk materials like steel, aluminum, and cement.
Rigzone, citing the same report, says petrochemicals “are set to account for more than a third of the growth in world oil demand to 2030, and nearly half the growth to 2050”. The industry newsletter adds that “advanced economies currently use up to 20 times as much plastic and up to 10 times as much fertilizer as developing economies on a per capita basis, ‘underscoring the huge potential for growth worldwide’”.
Plastic “has become an inextricable part of modern life over the past 50 to 60 years, and some environmental groups—particularly those concerned with pollution in the oceans—have started campaigns to reduce the use of products like plastic straws, shopping bags, and water bottles,” the Times notes. But “while it may be easy to switch from bottled water to a refillable container, other plastics are not so easy to replace. In hospitals, for example, IV drips that were once made of glass are now made of plastic because it is cheaper, and plastics are less likely to shatter.”
In a similar vein [no pun initially intended but, no, we didn’t rewrite after noticing it—Ed.], “petrochemicals are also a fundamental part of the pharmaceutical industry,” the Times continues. “The predicted increase in petrochemicals will also be driven by an increase in fertilizer use, the result of population growth along with a growing global economy. As developing countries, especially those with larger populations, increase their wealth, they will quite likely increase the use of fertilizer, much of which is produced from natural gas.”
By 2030, the IEA estimated, petrochemicals will account for about 7% of increased demand for natural gas.
Last week, Saudi Aramco and French colossal fossil Total signed a joint development agreement for a US$9-billion petrochemical megaproject in Jubail, Saudi Arabia, with capacity to produce 1.5 million tons per year of ethylene and related petrochemical units when it starts up in 2024, Rigzone reports. The petrochemicals sector has been undergoing significant growth globally and is one of the future growth engines,” said Aramco CEO Amin H. Nasser.