In research and popular media, much attention is focused on the impact of fossil fuels used for energy purposes. In a new EES paper, researchers focus instead on the non-energy uses of fossil fuels, their impact, and lower-emissions alternatives. Non-energy uses are defined as “fuels that are used as raw materials […] and are not consumed as a fuel or transformed into another fuel,” and primarily include feedstock for chemical production of ethylene, methanol, and ammonia, and oil products like waxes and lubricants. Coal, gas, and oil usage for non-energy purposes currently account for up to 7% of global CO2 emissions.
In their paper, Daioglou et al. present a global model for emissions reduction in non-energy processes, called the Non-Energy Demand and Emissions Model, or NEDE. This model projects that the global demand of non-energy processes will more than double over the next 100 years. Their analysis explores the alternative of using biomass for feedstock chemical production, promoting fuel switching in climate policy, and post-consumer waste management such as mechanical recycling and cascading processes. By comparing current usage and feedstock substitution costs, and by projecting based on economic, population, and fuel price developments, the model predicts that substituting fossils fuels, particularly coal, with biomass for non-energy purposes could significantly reduce emissions. Post-consumer waste management processes are currently too inefficient to significantly reduce emissions; however, climate policy that promotes fuel switching through carbon taxation can help to implement emissions-reducing practices.
It is interesting that Daioglou et al. point out that there are currently a lack of broad studies on the emission reduction potential of using biomass in non-energy processes, as was apparently pointed out in the recent Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Speaking as someone outside of this field of research, I would say that lowering emissions of non-energy processes certainly takes a back seat in the media to the use of fossil fuels for energy purposes. While the relative impact of non-energy processes may seem small by comparison, if the NEDE model is correct then analyses such as this one will grow increasingly important. As the authors note, there is still much research to be done to determine if biomass is optimal for reducing emissions for non-energy purposes, but his broad analysis is certainly a good start.
Read more in the full EES article here:
Energy Demand and Emissions of the Non-Energy Sector
Vassilis Daioglou, Andre Faaij, Deger Saygin, Birka Wicke, Martin Patel and Detlef Peter van Vuuren
Energy Environ. Sci., 2013, Accepted Manuscript