Electe23: Exploring the Future of Chemical Industry


Last summer, Industryandenergy.eu and VoltaChem embarked on a journey across Europe for Electe23, alongside students and young professionals. They explored various industrial electrification projects, ranging from the electric cracker in Ludwigshafen to a groundbreaking eMethanol plant in central Sweden. This expedition shed light on the electrification of the industry as a crucial solution for transforming European industrial practices.

Electrifying industries requires exploring diverse pathways, including electrochemical processes and revitalizing technologies like DC converters. Older technologies, like DC converters, are making a comeback, thanks in part to the rise of green hydrogen production. Neglected pathways are being revived in response to the climate crisis. Plasma technology, for instance, is experiencing renewed interest.

Plant by Plant Transformation

The journey revealed that both established industries and emerging companies are actively involved in electrification efforts. For example, in Ludwigshafen, BASF is developing a pilot electric cracker with Linde and Sabic. This marks a shift towards electrification within existing industrial clusters, demonstrating that closing factories can create space for innovation.

On the other hand, the Liquid Wind project takes a different approach. It involves large partners collaborating on the production of methanol from biogenic CO2 and green hydrogen. Liquid Wind’s concept focuses on building example factories where opportunities are most promising, rather than being confined to existing clusters.

Diverse Forms of Electrification

Electrifying the process industry takes various forms, influenced by geography, history, cooperation models, and technological advancements. Transitioning from traditional fossil fuel-powered steam crackers to electric cracking offers potential for reducing carbon emissions in the production of essential chemicals like ethylene and propylene.

However, challenges arise as industries shift to electrification, such as the need for increased green energy supply and infrastructure development. Upgrading electricity grids is essential to meet the growing demand, not only from industrial processes but also from households and transportation.

eMethanol’s Role in Decarbonizing Shipping

The FlagshipONE project in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden, led by Ørsted and a consortium of companies, is producing eMethanol from biogenic CO2 and hydrogen. eMethanol is positioned as a sustainable fuel for global shipping, addressing the industry’s carbon emissions.

Innovations in Electrolyzers

Advancements in electrolyzer technology are critical to the success of electrochemical projects. Alkaline and PEM (proton-exchange membrane) electrolyzers currently dominate the field. Alkaline electrolyzers, known for their affordability, face competition from PEM electrolyzers, offering quicker response times and smaller footprints. Solid oxide (SOEC) electrolyzers are gaining attention due to their higher efficiency, albeit at a higher cost.

Co-Production of Chemicals

The future of the chemical industry involves co-producing valuable chemicals alongside hydrogen. For instance, the Membrane Electrolysis Company in Chemie Park Delfzijl produces chlorine, caustic soda, and hydrogen from brine. This power-to-X approach reduces environmental impact and yields green products. However, limited market demand for certain co-products, like chlorine, can constrain hydrogen production. Plasma technology holds promise for co-producing hydrogen and essential chemical building blocks like ethene or acetylene, potentially reshaping the industry.

From Existing to New

The transformation extends beyond chemical clusters to power plants. The RWE power plant in Eemshaven, for instance, is evolving into an energy and raw materials hub, with plans for green hydrogen production and energy storage.

In Conclusion

Electe23’s journey showcased the diversity of electrification pathways and the potential for innovation across the European industrial landscape. Brightsite’s plasma lab played a vital role in exploring novel approaches to sustainable chemistry, underlining the industry’s commitment to a greener future.