Back to Top
Skip to main content
NETL Innovation To Help the Chemical Industry Meet Sustainability Goals
NETL working with the downstream chemicals industry to make it more sustainable and meet the nation’s clean energy goals

Photo caption: Oil refinery.

Director’s Corner

by Brian Anderson, Ph.D.

The chemicals industry is one of the most critical business sectors in the United States. This industry provides many products that our society relies upon, including gasoline, jet fuel, diesel, synthetic rubber, silicone, plastics, ammonia, adhesives and pharmaceuticals to name a few. As NETL applies its research expertise toward meeting clean energy goals that call for a net-zero carbon emission electricity sector by 2035 and economy-wide net-zero emissions by 2050, the Lab is also working with the chemicals industry to make it more sustainable.  

Reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the U.S. chemicals industry is critical to achieving clean energy goals, but developing effective carbon management strategies is among the most difficult challenges facing researchers.   

NETL’s Center for Sustainable Fuels and Chemicals (CSFC) is working with partners to transform today’s chemical industry into a sustainable industry of tomorrow by using lower-carbon feedstocks like CO2 and hydrogen to process useful products. We’re developing technologies and deploying solutions to increase process efficiency, integrate carbon capture technology and frameworks to quantify the life-cycle footprint of chemical products. And we’re advancing recycling of waste plastics and chemicals to better manage the product life cycle and drive toward a net-zero emission economy. 

Building on the Lab’s decades of success in converting carbon resources into high-value products, NETL’s CSFC is working to scale up technologies and developing decarbonization strategies to help the U.S. chemicals industry meet its sustainability goals.

Throughout the month of May, we’ll be featuring some of the research that supports the CSFC. For example: 

  • A skilled NETL team is taking precise steps to understand the environmental impacts of the Lab’s innovations through rigorous life cycle analysis processes, and the results are helping people make better decisions to improve and protect the environment.
  • NETL researchers are investigating the use of microwaves to convert a combination of waste plastic and the stalks, leaves and cobs that remain in fields after corn is harvested, called corn stover, into hydrogen — a clean fuel that, when consumed in a fuel cell, produces only water and is an attractive fuel option for transportation and electricity generation applications.
  • NETL researchers are growing versatile biocatalysts using microbes to convert industrial CO2 wastes and other single-carbon compounds into useful chemicals to manufacture biofuel, food additives and other high-value products while reducing emissions of greenhouse gas. 

While the challenges facing the downstream chemicals industry are too large for any one entity to address, NETL’s breadth of multidisciplinary talent and experience and increased coordination between industry and government will create a more agile and stable supply chain for chemicals that are vital to our society. I invite you to visit our website and social media channels throughout May to learn more about how NETL research is delivering integrated solutions to enable transformation to a sustainable energy future.