Ethylene based on woody biomass-what are environmental key issues of a possible future Swedish production on industrial scale
Journal article, 2013
In order to reduce its environmental impact, the chemical industry no longer produces base chemicals such as ethylene, solely from fossil, but also from biomass-based feedstocks. However, a biomass option suitable for one region might not be as suitable for another region due to, e.g., long transport and the related environmental. Therefore, local biomass alternatives and the environmental impact related to the production of chemicals from these alternatives need to be investigated. This study assesses the environmental impact of producing ethylene from Swedish wood ethanol.
The study was conducted following the methodology of life cycle assessment. The life cycle was assessed using a cradle-to-gate perspective for the production of 50,000 tonnes ethylene/year for the impact categories global warming, acidification (ACP), photochemical ozone creation, and eutrophication (EP).
The production of enzymes used during the life cycle had a significant effect on all investigated impacts. However, reduced consumption of enzyme product, which could possibly be realized considering the rapid development of enzymes, lowered the overall environmental impact of the ethylene. Another approach could be to use alternative hydrolyzing agents. However, little information on their environmental impact is available. An additional key contributor, with regard to ACP, EP, and POCP, was the ethanol production. Therefore, further improvements with regard to the process' design may have beneficial effects on its environmental impact.
The study assessed the environmental impact of wood ethylene and pointed to several directions for improvements, such as improved enzyme production and reduced consumption of enzyme products. Moreover, the analysis showed that further investigations into other process options and increase of ethylene production from biomass are worth continued research.
Life cycle assessment