BLOG: Benzene, the need for a new global industrial revolution and future challenges

John Richardson

01-Dec-2021

SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Click here to see the latest blog post on Asian Chemical Connections by John Richardson. A new industrial revolution is needed if the petrochemicals industry is to rise to the carbon challenge.

Look no further than benzene as an example where 95% of existing production is intimately tied into the refining and gasoline industries as demand for oil declines on electrification of vehicles, leading to refinery closures.

The other 5% is made via coal and after COP26, more efforts will be made to move away from coal as an energy source.

Lots of frogs will have to be kissed – lots of new technologies tested – in the hope that enough of the frogs will turn into princes and princesses.

And given the economic problems of the developing world, made worse by COVID-19 and its lack of basic energy infrastructure, the danger is that the region will have no choice but to make benzene using existing technologies, regardless of the carbon impact.

Big new quantities of benzene are required to meet developing world demand which is forecast to double in 2021-2040 versus 2001-2020 to a cumulative total of 733m tonnes (see the second chart in today’s post).

The finished goods made from benzene, such as medical packaging, medical scanners and food packaging, are not luxuries but essentials that the developing world needs a great deal more of.

The answer? We need a truly global new industrial revolution, with the developing world provided with adequate financing and access to new technologies. In our cynical and hopefully unrealistic moments, we are left thinking, “Good luck with that”.

Editor’s note: This blog post is an opinion piece. The views expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of ICIS.

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