Belgium – A few months ago, CTO Melanie Maas Brunner stated that the Antwerp site will soon be the first BASF Verbund site in Europe to be completely CO2 neutral. After all, its location offers unique opportunities for the deployment of offshore wind and large-scale storage of CO2 (CCS). Stimulating to hear, says Jan Remeysen, CEO of BASF Antwerp. He emphasizes that a silver bullet does not exist.
A lot will have to happen. The Antwerp site will in any case continue to build on BASF’s well-known Verbund principle. In other words, maximum integration of the production processes. If there is a surplus of energy or chemical building blocks then a destination will always be sought elsewhere on the site. Remeysen: “We still manage to make incremental improvements. These days we also use the enormous computing power of the computers for this. Via data analytics you sometimes see completely different patterns. For example, we recently found a solution to a puzzle that had been occupying us for some time. We had long wanted to reduce the amount of raw materials needed in one of our factories. We just couldn’t get it right. Data analysis gave us new insights and now we have succeeded.”
A second important step for BASF Antwerp is the purchase of sustainably generated electricity. The company owns almost a quarter of the shares in the Dutch wind farm Hollandse Kust Zuid, which will be fully operational in 2023. It will then be the largest offshore wind farm in the world with 140 wind turbines and a total installed capacity of 1.5 gigawatts.
Starting next year, BASF Antwerp plans to purchase about a quarter of the wind power from the park each year. This will enable the site to green its existing electricity demand. Also, existing plants will increasingly use electricity as an energy carrier instead of fossil fuels.
A next, third step stems directly from this. The construction of new electrical installations or parts thereof. Remeysen: “For example, we are conducting research into the use of e-boilers. And if we want to produce hydrogen in the long term, for example through methane pyrolysis, then that will also require a lot of electricity.”
On the horizon, the electric cracker is also glowing. Like several other chemical companies, BASF is currently investigating the possibilities of electric furnaces in the crackers. Remeysen: “Admittedly, that does need more time. I don’t expect the first electric crackers before 2030.”
The fourth solution will be implemented sooner: the capture and storage of CO2. Remeysen: “CCS will be an important lever for Antwerp. BASF’s group objective is to emit 25 percent less CO2 by 2030 compared to 2018. Thanks in part to the plans for CCS and the green power from the offshore wind farm, Antwerp is on course to achieve a 50 percent reduction as early as 2025. We are therefore ahead of the game. But, staying at the top is much more difficult than getting there.’
Although Remeysen sees CCS as a bridging solution, he believes it will be desperately needed in the coming decades. ‘Ultimately, we want to move towards CO2-neutral processes, but these are hardly available yet. Until that time, we will really have to capture CO2 and store it offshore. This is often the case in the evolution of technologies. First come the end-of-pipe solutions, and then to improve more and more at the beginning.”
For this path BASF is looking for a lot of cooperation. For example, within the Antwerp@C consortium. “Together with Air Liquide, Borealis, ExxonMobil, Ineos, Fluxys, Port of Antwerp and Total Energies, we are investigating the technical and economic feasibility of CO2 infrastructure. For example, how are we going to capture CO2? We are also studying together the construction of a CO2 infrastructure, a backbone in the port of Antwerp. In this way the companies can bring the captured CO2 into the pipeline. Together we are studying how to transport the CO2 from the port. And of course it would be even better if we could use more and more of the captured CO2 as a raw material. For that too, good infrastructure is needed.”
Four to five times
Together with Air Liquide, BASF can already take a big first step in the coming years. At the end of 2021 it was announced that they can expect a large subsidy for their project Kairos@C. The Flemish press recently reported that the amount involved is 360 million euros.
Within this project, Air Liquide and BASF will capture CO2 at five of their chemical plants. The gas will be transported via a pipeline network in the port, in order to finally store it underground in old gas fields under the North Sea. This can be done by transport by pipeline to Rotterdam or by transport in special ships. For the latter option, a factory must be built to first liquefy the gas.
Large investments in infrastructure are crucial for the transition of the industry anyway, Remeysen emphasizes. In addition to an infrastructure for CO2 and hydrogen, the reinforcement of the electricity grid is also of great importance, he argues. Industry, like various other sectors, will be using more and more electricity. “We have already made calculations. If we continue with electrification and eventually with electrical cracking, we will need four to five times as much electricity at BASF Antwerp. That will require huge investments in infrastructure, just to get that power here.”
When it comes to making industry more sustainable, the term decarbonization is often heard. And that is necessary, especially in the case of fuels. In chemistry, however, it’s all about carbon compounds. The term recarbonization therefore seems more appropriate. Remeysen: “Ultimately we have to move away from linear processes. We should scrap the word plastic waste. It is raw material. In the future we will use less and less fresh, fossil raw materials in our crackers. We will then only need additional carbon – bio or fossil – for the growth in demand and for that small part that you cannot recycle in any way.”
At BASF Antwerp, tests have already been done at the cracker with circular feedstock. ‘For example pyrolysis oil. It already appears to be quite possible to work with recycled raw materials.” BASF does not seem to be planning to build its own plants for the chemical recycling of raw materials. “We would like to build up a whole value chain for circular raw materials with partners.”
Circular raw materials have another major advantage, in addition to making them more sustainable. “The corona crisis and now the war in Ukraine have made it clear that it is better to produce some products here and that dependence on raw materials from other parts of the world also has its disadvantages. Circular raw materials we get directly from our close surroundings.’