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Q&A: How the chemicals industry is rising to the challenge of climate change

Talking about climate with ACC's Chris Jahn

5 min read

Renewable Energy

Q&A: How the chemicals industry is rising to the challenge of climate change


Products made by chemical companies touch almost every aspect of modern life. The industry is working hard to develop the innovative technologies needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build a sustainable future. In this Q&A, Chris Jahn, President and CEO of the American Chemistry Council, talks about the challenges presented by climate change, what chemical companies are doing to shrink their carbon footprints today and how the chemical industry is working to ensure a more renewable future.

How is the chemical industry reducing greenhouse gas emissions throughout its supply chain and manufacturing processes?

Climate change is a global challenge that requires decisive action, and the chemical industry is making it a priority. Under Responsible Care®, the chemical industry’s environmental, health, safety and security performance initiative, our members track and publicly report our greenhouse gas (GHG) intensity and energy use: Between 1992 and 2018, members reduced the GHG intensity of their operations by more than 24%.

Chris Jahn, President and CEO
of the American Chemistry Council

We know that there is more to do, and we’re taking the initiative. Our members are exploring, developing, and deploying a host of exciting new technologies to achieve significant reductions in emissions in our manufacturing and operations going forward. Examples include carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) to prevent CO2 from entering the atmosphere; lower-emission hydrogen, steam, and electricity; the use of biomaterials and circular feedstocks instead of virgin materials; cracker electrification; and industrial energy efficiency programs. Our strategy is to capture emissions, reduce GHGs related to energy and feedstock use, and improve the efficiency of our processes.

Our industry is a leader in the use of combined heat and power (CHP), a highly efficient process for generating heat and electricity on-site. We also helped pioneer catalytic technologies that let facilities produce more with less energy. Last year, ACC established a partnership with DOE to enhance innovation in energy efficient plastics recycling and reduce waste through enhanced recovery of post-use plastics.

How does the chemical industry help other industries reduce emissions?

Chemistry and plastics products enable a variety of applications that help save energy and reduce emissions every day – from solar panels and wind turbines to electric and fuel-efficient vehicles, high-performance building materials, advanced batteries, energy-efficient lighting, and more. Our new video is a great show and tell.

Tell me about some exciting chemical industry innovations that support emissions reduction.

I’ll give you three examples. Chemours recently launched a project to capture at least 99% of the HFC-23 emissions at its Louisville, Ky., manufacturing site. The new project advances the company’s goal of reducing process emissions of fluorinated organic chemicals by at least 99% from all manufacturing sites globally. Scientists at Covestro have developed a breakthrough technology – a catalyst that makes it possible to harness waste CO2 and convert it into a precursor for flexible polyurethane foam. And Albemarle’s lithium products enable the growth of “clean miles” driven with electric vehicles, more efficient use of renewable energy through grid storage, batteries for medical devices, and medical imaging. We have lots of member stories on our website.

What kind of government policies would best support your efforts?

ACC believes that technology, market-based, and policy solutions are necessary to achieve climate goals. On the policy front, ACC just released a set of recommendations built around three imperatives – developing and deploying clean manufacturing technologies, pricing carbon, and promoting the use of emissions-reducing solutions. We’re urging Congress to increase government investment and scientific resources to develop and deploy low-emissions technologies in the manufacturing sector; adopt transparent, predictable, technology- and revenue-neutral, market-based, economy-wide carbon price signals; and encourage the adoption of emissions-avoiding solutions and technologies throughout the economy to achieve significant emissions savings.

The first piece is about supporting clean manufacturing innovation through the development and deployment of new technologies. The second, carbon pricing, is a concept that ACC has long supported as part of our climate policy principles. It’s a clear, consistent, and effective way to reduce emissions economy-wide. The third bucket of policies aims to supersize the use of proven emissions-reducing solutions, many of them enabled by chemistry. The policies themselves are varied and specific. To learn more, you’ll just have to read our new policy platform!

Is there anything else you would like me to know about how your industry is promoting sustainability?

Sustainability is a global issue, and one to which every sector of society – business and industry, governments, and communities – can make meaningful contributions. We believe chemistry plays an integral role in helping to solve our world’s sustainability challenges. We’re committed to enhancing our own sustainability and helping others to do the same.

Chemistry is the power behind a variety of products and technologies that help protect our environment, save energy, and reduce emissions. Advances in chemistry enable water purification, conservation, sanitation and reuse.  The chemical industry supports resource conservation, materials reuse, recycling and recovery, along with design innovations that help make products last longer and reduce waste.

Chris Jahn is President and CEO of the American Chemistry Council (ACC), the leading association representing the $553-billion US chemicals industry. In this role, Jahn is responsible for driving a pro-growth, science-based public policy agenda that fosters the development of groundbreaking products to improve lives; create jobs and economic expansion; and enhance public and environmental health and safety.