Report suggests China's chemical sector is leading the nation's energy saving efforts and could promote further emission reductions


Hepeng Jia/Beijing, China

China’s chemical sector is leading the nation’s energy saving efforts, and could help other fields reduce their carbon emissions, according to a new report.

Chemistry-based approaches [such as developing new materials or catalysts], which have not been frequently adopted in energy saving practices, could have great potential to realise the nation’s overall goal to improve energy efficiency,’ says Wang Wentang, secretary general of the China Association for Chemical Energy Saving Technologies (CACEST).

On 16 April, the association released the country’s first energy saving progress report for the chemical sector.

According to the report, most petrochemical products manufactured in the country have reduced energy consumption per product over the past five years. For example, in 2009, the energy used to refine a tonne of petroleum decreased by 5.3 per cent compared to 2006. For ethylene, energy consumption dropped 5.8 per cent, for pure alkali 17.2 per cent, and for calcium carbide 10.8 per cent.Chinese chemical industry

China’s chemical industry is doing its bit to help reduce emissions

The improvement in energy efficiency has led to flatter growth in energy consumption within the Chinese chemical industry. Between 2000 and 2009, the sector’s total energy use grew by 7.7 per cent annually, 2.2 percentage points lower than the average figure for the whole industrial sector in China.

’Besides the efficiency factor, quicker growth in other sectors, such as the steel and cement industries, have also contributed to the comparatively lower energy consumption [of the chemical sector],’ Wang told Chemistry World.

However, the chemical sector’s energy consumption still accounts for 15.2 per cent of total national energy consumption and 22.6 per cent of total industrial consumption. ’There is much to do to cut energy use,’ says Wang.

According to Wang, in terms of key areas needing efficiency improvements, production methods and techniques, better industrial heating systems and improved electricity supplies are high on the list.

Aside from new technologies and production methods, however, a different approach to infrastructure within the chemical industry could play a significant energy saving role, says the report.

’While the current policies to close down small high-energy-consuming chemical plants should continue, more work should be focused on developing large high-efficiency petrochemical plants to replace the small ones,’ Wang says.

Li Yongwu, president of the China Petroleum and Chemical Industry Association, says that China’s petrochemical sector will not only reduce its own carbon emissions, but also contribute to other sectors’ carbon emission reductions by providing them with new energy-saving technologies.

As a supplier to many other industries, savings in the petrochemical sector can also ripple out to other industries. ’If the petrochemical industry reduces one unit of carbon dioxide, it can help other sectors reduce two to three units,’ Li said at a low-carbon forum held in Beijing in April.

But the work of current energy saving firms is still dominated by physical approaches, such as residual heat utilisation and electricity system adjustment. Most of them do not know how to streamline and optimise the complex processes used in the chemical industry to save energy, says Wang. 

’If our chemical sector wants to realise a greater contribution in energy saving, it should develop more independent energy saving service firms,’ he says.