Student Work

Steps Towards Defossilization: Rethinking Petrochemical Production


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Fossil fuel production and usage is the single greatest contributor to anthropogenic climate change. To stop the world-altering impacts of global warming, CO2 emissions must be cut in half by 2050 and eliminated by 2100. The U.S. processes 19% of global oil and natural gas, the largest capacity in the world; it also has vast resources to defossilize this industry. While there are known renewable energy replacements for fuels, essential petrochemical products such as plastics and fertilizers will require different alternative production methods. This study sought to characterize both current fuels and petrochemical production totals and primary intermediate chemicals by creating a Sankey flow diagram. Over 95% of all petrochemical products are derived from methanol, ethylene, propylene, ammonia, and BTX aromatics intermediates. An analysis of potential alternative production methods was then completed by identifying numerous routes, which depend entirely on waste products (biomass, biogas, CO2) and renewables (energy, H2) for feedstocks. Large scale production of fossil-free petrochemicals is already occurring in some instances and should continue to focus on upstream chemicals. Further expansions will be dictated by the availability of renewable energy, policy, funding, and technological advancement.

  • This report represents the work of one or more WPI undergraduate students submitted to the faculty as evidence of completion of a degree requirement. WPI routinely publishes these reports on its website without editorial or peer review.
  • 6206
  • E-project-031921-141333
  • 2021
UN Sustainable Development Goals
Date created
  • 2021-03-19
Resource type
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