AFPM ’22: Nuclear, circular hydrogen keys to net-zero future for chemicals – Dow CEO

Joseph Chang

28-Mar-2022

SAN ANTONIO (ICIS)–Nuclear power from small modular reactors (SMRs) and circular (blue) hydrogen are the keys to a net-zero future for the chemicals industry, the CEO of Dow said on Monday.

“We need a broader and more realistic approach to feed our energy needs. Renewables are great and we’re a tremendous supporter… but renewables alone are not the answer,” said Jim Fitterling, CEO of Dow, in a keynote speech at the International Petrochemical Conference (IPC), hosted by the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM).

Dow is among the Top 20 companies in the world using renewable power, sourcing over 850 megawatts (MW) currently from wind, solar, hydro and others. More than 25% of Dow’s manufacturing sites are fully or partially powered by renewables, he noted.

Renewable power generation would have to increase 90 times in the US to replace hydrocarbons, the Dow CEO pointed out, citing an article by the Foundation for Economic Education.

“That’s just in the US, and as you know, the US uses less than 20% of the world’s energy. Math and physics and economics tell us that it’s just not possible to get to 100% renewable energy in our lifetimes – nor is it necessary as we have alternatives like advanced small nuclear reactors,” said Fitterling.

The outlook for deploying SMR technology is very promising, with Dow in preliminary discussions to access energy from SMRs at two separate US sites, he said.

“Those would take each site to zero carbon emissions and serve as a baseload for energy needs. Coupled with natural gas as another baseload, it seems like a practical way to increase the country’s carbon-free energy and provide the constant power needs for industries like ours,” said Fitterling, who added that the US has greater acceptance of nuclear power than some other Western countries.

“When I talk about all-of-the-above energy policy, we are constantly being cornered into one definition of the future of clean energy, and that just doesn’t work,” he added.

Dow is not looking at SMRs for its largest site in Freeport, Texas, but smaller sites, as these units would typically supply 60-200MW of power, Fitterling told ICIS on the sidelines of the IPC.

CIRCULAR HYDROGEN THE KEY
The other critical component to a net-zero future is circular, or blue, hydrogen where the carbon produced from the natural gas-based process to make hydrogen is captured and stored.

“In my mind, circular hydrogen is the key. A lot of people believe we should skip circular hydrogen and go straight to green hydrogen, but that’s simply not practical for carbon abating industries like ours,” said Fitterling.

Green hydrogen is 10-16 times more expensive than blue hydrogen and blue hydrogen is ready to deploy right now versus more investment and time needed to scale up green hydrogen – time the industry does not have, the CEO said.

The land mass needed to supply the alternative energy for green hydrogen is “simply overwhelming” and blue hydrogen is more suited for the constant electricity demand the industry needs, he added.

Blue hydrogen is a large component of Dow’s zero carbon cracker being planned in Fort Saskatchewan, Canada, for start-up in 2027.

Lastly, the market “desperately needs a market-based voluntary emissions trading system (ETS) in the US to give us a market-based price on carbon and attract investment”, said Fitterling.

“It would jump-start investments and provide a floor of support to incentivise innovation,” he added.

A voluntary ETS, especially for high carbon emitters with the understanding that a mandatory system would soon follow, would have strong political and corporate support in the US, according to the CEO.

The AFPM IPC runs through Tuesday.

Focus article by Joseph Chang

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