BASF, the German chemical company, is developing a new process technology to produce hydrogen (H2) from natural gas without the negative carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
On the 10th January 2019, at its research press conference in Ludwigshafe, BASF presented a new corporate strategy which holds climate protection firmly at its core. A central goal of this strategy, is to achieve CO2-neutral growth until 2030, which the company hopes to accomplish by gradually replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources and developing radically new low-emission production processes.
Dr. Martin Brudermüller, Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors and Chief Technology Officer of BASF SE, stressed, “To reach the climate protection targets, a large-scale reduction in CO2 emissions will be necessary. As a raw material, CO2 is only suitable in selected applications and such uses will therefore not make a decisive contribution to slowing climate change.”
In the past decades, the company has already avoided considerable CO2 emissions by optimising its production processes and increasing efficiency. Since 1990, BASF has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% while doubling its production volumes in the same period.
“Achieving another significant reduction in CO2 emissions will require entirely new technologies, which is why BASF has launched an ambitious R&D programme,” said Brudermüller.
Because energy is needed to perform chemical reactions, fossil fuels are the largest source of CO2 in the chemical industry. BASF’s steam crackers, for example, must reach a temperature of 850°C in order to break down naphtha into olefins and aromatics for further processing. If this energy could come from renewable electricity instead of the natural gas typically used now, CO2 emissions could be dramatically reduced by as much as 90%.
The production of H2 releases significant volumes of CO2. The chemical industry uses large quantities of H2 as a reactant. At BASF, for instance, it is used in ammonia synthesis. H2 will also be essential for many sustainable energy carrier and energy storage applications in the future.
Together with cooperation partners, BASF is therefore developing a new process technology to produce H2 from natural gas. This technology splits natural gas directly into its components H2 and carbon. The resulting solid carbon can potentially be used in steel or aluminium production, for example. This methane pyrolysis process requires comparatively little energy. If this energy comes from renewable sources, H2 can be produced on an industrial scale without CO2 emissions.
Development of new catalysts is vital to success
Olefins represent an especially important area where BASF is looking to develop new low-emission processes. The considerable CO2 emissions resulting from current production methods in the steam cracker could also be significantly reduced through ‘dry reforming’ of methane. This process creates a syngas which is then transformed into olefins via an intermediate step of dimethyl ether. BASF researchers have now been able to find a way to do this for the first time thanks to new, high-performance catalyst systems.
These new-generation catalysts are being marketed in cooperation with Tier One industrial gas giant, Linde. Depending on the availability of raw materials and renewable electricity, this innovative process could then be a complement or alternative to the potential electrical heating of steam crackers.
BASF’s research pipeline includes around 3,000 projects, which are being worked on by more than 11,000 employees in research and development worldwide.