The first issue of this publication in September of 1902, then titled Electrochemical Industry, contained this statement from professor C.F. Burgess: “Chemical manufacturing was a number of years ago considered best developed when the processes were so simple that no power was necessary to assist in the chemical reactions, but this condition has changed and the chemical industries are now pre-eminently power-using industries.”
The chemical process industries (CPI) have grown tremendously since that time, and according to the International Energy Agency (www.iea.org), the chemical sector is now the largest industrial energy consumer and the third largest industrial producer of CO2 emissions.
While energy efficiency has long been a focus of the CPI, the current “energy transition,” driven by sustainability and decarbonization goals, is in turn, driving the CPI to rethink energy sourcing and usage.
In response to the changing energy landscape, industrial manufacturers are investigating process electrification, which would allow renewable energy sources to be used in place of fossil fuels. This is becoming more feasible as the cost of wind and solar energy decreases. Options for industrial electrification, such as using electric motors in place of steam or gas turbines, electric heaters instead of fuel-fired ones, and heat-pumps, are discussed in detail in our two-part Cover Story on pages 28–38 of this issue.
Nuclear fission is another potential source of energy for industrial settings that is gaining attention with advances in small modular reactors (SMRs). SMRs are, as their name implies, small (generating up to 300 MW(e) per unit) and modular (can be factory assembled and brought to a location for installation). There are numerous SMR designs in development. Last month, the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA; www.oecd-nea.org) introduced a publication that tracks the progress of 21 SMR designs toward commercialization. This “SMR Dashboard” can be found on NEA’s website.
Also last month, Dow (www.dow.com) and X-Energy Reactor Co. LLC (X-energy; www.x-energy.com) announced a joint-development agreement to develop a four-unit Xe-100 facility at one of Dow’s U.S. Gulf Coast sites. Xe-100 is X-energy’s small modular nuclear high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR). This will be the first deployment of a grid-scale advanced nuclear reactor for an industrial site in North America.
Another pathway toward electrification in the CPI is development of electrochemical processes. While not new (recall that our first issue in 1902 was titled Electrochemical Industry), the emphasis on decarbonization is fueling strong interest in electrochemistry, including and beyond the much-discussed electrolytic route to hydrogen production.
Two examples of groups working in this area are: a recently formed, multidisciplinary collaboration between U.S. universities and national laboratories called DC-MUSE, which stands for Decarbonizing Chemical Manufacturing Using Sustainable Electrification (www.dc-muse.org); and the e-Refinery at TU-Delft in the Netherlands (www.tudelft.nl/e-refinery). Information about their programs can be found on their websites. And for further reading on electrochemistry, see “Electrochemistry Spreads its Wings,” Chem. Eng., pp. 12–16, Sept. 2021.■
Dorothy Lozowski, Editorial Director