Somewhat decarbonizing plastic production by 2050 might just be possible, with additional spendint of US$759 billion for measures like electrifying “cracker” plants and building out carbon capture, but those investments would need to start now, says a new report from BloombergNEF that sidesteps the Scope 3 emissions that would result.
“The report outlines a pathway to net-zero even while total plastic production is expected to grow at a steady rate of 3% a year,” writes Bloomberg, adding that “the oil industry believes that plastics will be a bright spot for it as traditional uses of fossil fuels decline.”
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But this pathway will require immediate and ongoing investment, beyond what is already being spent on carbon capture and storage facilities and electrifying the plants that “crack” fossil fuels (typically natural gas) into plastic feedstocks like ethylene.
BNEF’s analysis considers only Scope 1 and 2 emissions—the direct emissions generated in making plastic, and from the energy inputs required to do so.
Running the numbers on how the $759 billion in added costs will affect industry balance sheets, Bloomberg writes that “with spending like that, net-zero petrochemicals will not be competitive for decades to come.”
BNEF calculates that “a subsidy or a carbon tax of $250 a tonne would be required to balance the scales for companies that made no shift in production.”
Moreover, Bloomberg says the report “largely does not address the grave problems to the environment caused by the discarding of plastic products, from water bottles to single-use face masks,” noting that microplastics are now found in virtually every nook and cranny on earth.