Are alternative feedstocks the pathway to decarbonizing the chemical industry?

Are alternative feedstocks the pathway to decarbonizing the chemical industry?

By Ammar Ahmed

Access our report to discover how the chemical industry can reduce its carbon footprint with alternative feedstocks, understand industry challenges and opportunities, and gain knowledge from detailed case studies and expert insights.

Accounting for 7% of the global greenhouse gas emissions, the chemical industry is under increasing pressure to adopt sustainable practices. This urgency is amplified by the global push towards decarbonization to steer the industry towards a more environmentally sustainable path.

These circumstances probe the viability of alternative feedstocks to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint. This article will examine the feasibility of alternative feedstocks in establishing a more sustainable chemical industry, exploring their potential benefits, challenges, and real-world applications.

What makes the chemical industry a major contributor to CO₂ emissions?

The chemical industry’s extensive energy demands are primarily met through the combustion of fossil fuels. This heavy reliance on fossil fuels directly leads to substantial carbon dioxide emissions, making the chemical sector one of the largest industrial CO₂ emitters.

CO2 chemical emissions

Production methods within the chemical industry also contribute to its high CO₂ emissions. Many chemical reactions used in these processes either require a lot of energy or directly emit CO₂. A prime example is the production of ammonia, which is particularly known for its substantial CO₂ release.

The chemical industry’s vast product range impacts various segments, from agriculture to consumer goods. The entire lifecycle of these products, from creation to disposal, adds to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This widespread impact underlines the industry’s role in global CO₂ emission levels.

The imperative for reducing CO₂ emissions globally:

International climate goals, including the Paris Agreement, aim to limit global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. This necessitates a drastic reduction in GHG emissions across all sectors, including the chemical industry.

countries CO2 emissions goals

Countries worldwide are adopting stringent carbon neutrality goals (by 2050-2070), requiring industries to adapt swiftly. For the chemical sector, this means overhauling processes and investing in clean technologies. Aligning with these goals requires the industry to move towards more sustainable practices and materials.

Regulations such as the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) and carbon pricing are being introduced. These aim to make high-emission imports more expensive and promote cleaner production methods. Such policies are pushing the chemical industry to reduce its carbon footprint.

Emissions trading systems offer a way to incentivize the reduction of pollutants, including CO₂. This gives the chemical industry an opportunity to gain financially while complying with environmental regulations. Participating in these systems encourages the pursuit of sustainability and innovation within the sector.

Are alternative feedstocks a viable solution?

Alternative feedstocks present a promising solution for reducing CO₂ emissions in the chemical industry. By using biomass, waste, and captured CO₂, these materials can cut carbon intensity by up to 85%. This significant potential reduction makes them an attractive option for industries aiming for carbon neutrality.

Over 70% of chemical companies have identified the use of alternative feedstocks as a critical strategy for decarbonization. Their adaptability across various chemical processes suggests they could play a central role in decreasing the industry’s carbon footprint.

The technology for processing alternative feedstocks is making steady progress, with several successful applications already in place. These examples not only prove the technical feasibility but also suggest economic benefits. As the technology matures, it could become more cost-effective, further enhancing its viability.

In addition to environmental benefits, adopting alternative feedstocks offers strategic advantages. It allows companies to diversify their raw material sources and reduce reliance on fossil fuels. This strategic shift helps in stabilizing supply chains and aligns businesses with increasing consumer demand for sustainable products.

Major challenges in utilizing alternative feedstocks:

The adoption of alternative feedstocks presents significant challenges that need careful consideration. This section will explore these challenges in detail, covering the technical, economic, and regulatory barriers involved.

  • Availability of raw materials: A critical challenge in transitioning to alternative feedstocks is the availability of biomass and waste materials. Ensuring a steady supply of these materials is essential for the continuous production of chemical products. Competition for biomass from other sectors, such as energy and agriculture, can lead to supply constraints. 
  • Financial investment: Another hurdle is the investment required for technology development and infrastructure overhaul. Transforming existing chemical production processes to accommodate new feedstocks may involve capital investment in new equipment. Additional costs are associated with R&D as well. 
  • Technological hurdles: Many technologies required to utilize alternative feedstocks are still under development. Achieving the needed scalability of these technologies is crucial for their widespread adoption. This includes overcoming technical limitations related to integration with existing chemical manufacturing operations.
  • Regulatory considerations: Regulatory frameworks and policies around the globe may change with time. This complexity can make it difficult for companies using alternative feedstocks to understand compliance requirements. Adapting to these legal standards demands both time and resources, potentially delaying the adoption of greener technologies. 

Despite the challenges, the potential for decarbonizing the chemical industry through alternative feedstocks remains significant, as analyzed and demonstrated in a recent PreScouter report.

Real-world applications of alternative feedstocks:

Real-world examples of implementing alternative feedstocks show a promising shift toward industrial decarbonization. Below, we present initiatives highlighting the chemical industry’s move towards greener alternatives.

UPM Biofuels

UPM Biofuels stands out for converting wood-based residue into renewable diesel and naphtha. This shows the potential of forestry by-products in replacing fossil fuels. Their Lappeenranta biorefinery, operational since 2015, showcases a sustainable alternative. They have achieved an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to traditional fossil fuels.


Braskem, a major player in the petrochemical industry, has been producing green ethylene from sugarcane-based ethanol for over a decade. Their technology involves the dehydration of ethanol. It shows the viability of bio-based feedstocks in producing materials that are identical to their fossil-based counterparts but with a reduced carbon footprint.

OCI N.V. & Linde

This is a joint venture between OCI N.V. & Linde, and is set to be operational by 2025. It aims to produce blue ammonia by utilizing natural gas with carbon capture technologies. This project illustrates the integration of carbon capture and sequestration to produce industrial chemicals with lower carbon emissions.

KBR and Avina Clean Hydrogen

KBR and Avina Clean Hydrogen are developing a green ammonia project in the US Gulf Coast. Through this project, they are emphasizing the role of green hydrogen and renewable energy. Their approach represents a significant step towards the decarbonization of ammonia production which is a critical component for various industrial applications.

Liquid Wind

Liquid Wind is focused on establishing commercial-scale eMethanol production facilities, using captured CO₂ and green hydrogen. Their FlagshipONE project, along with additional facilities planned in Sweden, aims to reduce CO₂ emissions. Their aim is to integrate renewable energy sources into methanol production for sustainable chemical manufacturing.

Initiatives by key industry players in reducing CO₂ emissions:

Key players in the chemical industry are leading the charge toward a more sustainable future. These industry giants are utilizing innovative strategies to reduce their carbon footprint.


BASF has set targets for a 25% reduction in its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 2018 levels. Their ultimate goal is achieving net-zero CO₂ emissions by 2050. The company is focusing on replacing fossil fuels with electricity from renewable sources. They also intend to incorporate bio-based feedstocks into their production processes. 


Dow is actively working towards reducing its net annual carbon emissions by 15% by 2030 from the 2020 baseline, aiming for carbon neutrality by 2050. The company plans to source 750 MW of its power demand from renewable sources and is also exploring CCUS technologies


DuPont aims for a 30% reduction in GHG emissions by 2030 compared to 2019 levels and achieve carbon-neutral operations by 2050. The company is investing in energy efficiency projects and developing low-carbon solutions. 

Looking towards a sustainable future:

The pursuit of a sustainable future compels the chemical industry to embrace innovative and collaborative efforts. By integrating alternative feedstocks into production processes, the industry strides towards significant carbon footprint reductions and aligns with global sustainability targets. This shift requires a collective commitment across the sector to accelerate the transition towards sustainable production methods.

If you have any questions or would like to know if we can help your business with its sustainability challenges, please contact us here or email us at

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