The difficult path to climate neutrality

CO2 concentration in Atmosphere
Reducing emissions is not enough, we have to stop emissions
Coal plant
It is not just about electricity
Steel Steel
Concrete Cement
Paper Paper

Plastics Plastics
Aluminium Aluminium
Glass Glass

Airplane Aviation
Container ship Shipping
Cow Agriculture



Steam Cracker

Steam Cracker
Cracker illustration
What happens with plastics after they have been used?
Plastics end of life

OECD, 2022

All of these cause emissions


Waste burning
Trash in Nature

Plastics can degrade to Methane and Ethylene

Royer et al, PLOS ONE, 2018


Landfills are a major source of Methane emissions

Waste Incinerators

Waste Incinerator

Highest CO₂ emissions

Recycling: Emissions from energy use, still best option

How should we think about plastic's end-of-life emissions?

Plastics are fossil fuels

If we want to clean up the production of plastics and chemicals, we need to consider both:

  • Fossil fuel energy
  • Fossil fuel feedstock



BASF is currently building the world's first electric Steam Cracker furnace in Ludwigshafen

Around 1,8 percent of BASF's Steam Cracker capacity in Ludwigshafen

BASF Furnace: 6 Megawatts

If scaled up to the capacity of BASF Ludwigshafen: 350 Megawatts

Electric Steam Cracking

It is in the early stages, but it appears doable

Replacing fossil fuel feedstock


Carbon Capture and Utilization

Take Hydrogen and CO₂, make hydrocarbons

Where does the CO₂ come from?

It requires a lot of energy

Can we make this more efficient, and are there alternatives?

Not all Power-to-X technologies are the same

Illustration Cracker and Fischer Tropsch
There is another way
Illustration Coal / MtO

Green Methanol

Green Methanol factory in Iceland
Illustration green MtO

Sailboat CO₂ to Green Methanol project

Collaboration between Jiangsu Sailboat (China) and Carbon Recycling International (Iceland) at China's largest Methanol to Olefins facility

E-Naphtha and electric Steam Crackers


Green Methanol and Methanol-to-Olefins

Methanol-to-Olefins is more efficient and requires less energy

Steam Crackers are among the biggest and most expensive facilities in the chemical industry

Other options

Use less

But beware of unintended consequences


Possible, but probably limited availability


Plastic recycling rate is 9% worldwide, but it differs widely

Chemical Recycling



There will probably always be some non-recyclable waste

Illustration incinerator CCS/CCU

CCS/CCU for Waste Incinerators

  • Oslo Waste Incinerator with CCS, currently on hold
  • Methanol from Waste Incinerator CO₂ in Zella-Mehlis, Germany

Summary plastics

  • We can make the chemicals needed for plastics from CO₂ and hydrogen, but it requires enormous amounts of clean energy
  • Methanol-to-Olefine technology is probably more efficient than using existing Steam Crackers
  • Using less plastics, biomass, more recycling, and new recycling technologies can help


Glass is produced in furnaces with temperatures around 1,500 °C, usually generated by fossil gas
Glass furnaces are operated without interruption

Can we run glass furnaces on electricity alone?

It's difficult

Illustration Glass Furnace

In 2008 the US company Cameron Glass built a large electric furnace for wine bottles

The furnace was unable to heat the glass evenly, it caused a major accident

Cameron Glass filed for bankruptcy in 2009

Can glass furnaces use mostly electricity and some gas?

Hybrid furnace projects

Next-Gen furnace, Ardagh, Germany

Volta Project, AGC, Czechia

Fossil gas could eventually be replaced by green hydrogen

There is another problem

What is glass made of?

Silica (Silicium Oxide, SiO₂)

Limestone (Calcium Carbonate, CaCO₃)

Soda (Sodium Carbonate, Na₂CO₃)


CaCO₃ → CaO + CO₂

Na₂CO₃ → Na₂O + CO₂

The mineral inputs contain carbon and cause emissions

Recycling can reduce these

Carbon Capture and Storage?


  • Fully electric furnaces are difficult to build
  • Mostly electric hybrid furnaces with green hydrogen could decarbonize the energy
  • No solution for emissions from minerals (carbonates)


Almost every industry needs to change its processes in major ways to avoid greenhouse gas emissions

Many technologies needed are in very early stages
We need a lot of clean electricity to make this happen
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Public domain or CC0 pictures used:

CO2 graph
Glass bottles
Container ship
Steam Cracker
Waste Incinerator

All other photos from my own collection. Illustrations created with Excalidraw.