Project Air is creating a first-of-a-kind, large-scale sustainable methanol plant. It uses CCU for converting CO2, residue streams, green hydrogen and biomethane into methanol. It’s a collaboration between specialty chemicals innovator Perstorp (Sweden) and energy firms Fortum (Finland) and Uniper (Germany). Perstorp aims to be the first chemical producer to replace all fossil-based methanol for its European production facilities (200,000 tons annually) with sustainable methanol as a raw material for chemical products. Project Air is aligned with the EU’s Industrial Strategy and other goals aimed at driving the transformation of a more sustainable, resilient and globally competitive European economy. Its success strongly relies on an abundant supply of biogas as well as green hydrogen, so Project Air wants policy-makers to understand the importance of minimising barriers to these key inputs. Also needed are a high carbon price, and protection against unfair competition from unsustainable chemical products. To accelerate scale-up, Project Air has been granted funding from the Swedish Energy Agency and is currently applying for support under the EU’s Innovation Fund. [Promoted by Project Air]
Chemicals are needed for 96% of all industrial production (source: CEFIC) – they are present in virtually all the products that we use in our daily life, from our smartphones to our clothes, from our laptops to solar panels and electric vehicles.
In fact, in order to shift away from fossil-based raw materials in European industries, and to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 while ensuring energy security and competitive/affordable energy prices, it will be critical to ensure a sustainable transformation of the chemical sector. This, and no less, is what Project Air intends to do.
A collaborative effort of specialty chemicals innovator Perstorp (Sweden) and the leading energy utilities enterprises Fortum (Finland) and Uniper (Germany), Project Air applies groundbreaking technologies and processes and develops a highly innovative, integrated concept for low-carbon, renewable and circular methanol production in the energy-intensive chemical sector.
Project Air is a true game-changer and critical enabler for European industry to become carbon neutral, and for Europe to end its dependence on imported fossil fuels. In that sense, it will directly help deliver on the EU’s climate and energy goals, as notably reflected in the ‘Fit for 55’ and ‘REPowerEU’ packages. When fully implemented in 2026, it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 500,000 tons/year. Through its huge multiplier effect, Project Air is also a key enabler for the decarbonisation of various other industries reliant on chemicals in their own manufacturing processes. Thus, the project will also support companies downstream in the value chains to shift to more sustainable, affordable products.
What’s the technology behind it?
Methanol is one of the most important raw materials for the chemical industry, and up until now, no competitive sources of sustainable methanol exist on the EU market. Project Air will create the first-of-a-kind, large-scale sustainable methanol plant that uses a carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) process for converting CO2, residue streams, renewable (green) hydrogen and biomethane to methanol. The green hydrogen will be produced in a new electrolysis plant – which will be the world’s largest hydrogen electrolysis unit installed for production in the chemical sector – in an innovative, circular way, using waste water in the electrolysis process.
Project Air utilises existing assets and proven technology, combined in new ways, and efficiently integrates them together into an existing chemical production plant. Perstorp will be the first chemical producer globally to make a transition to this novel integrated production concept, and the first chemical producer to replace all fossil-based methanol for its European production facilities (200,000 tons annually) with sustainable methanol as a raw material for chemical products.
A critical enabler to deliver on EU strategic objectives
Through this highly innovative concept and its great multiplier effect and scalability potential, Project Air is at the heart of the New EU Industrial Strategy (unveiled in May 2021) aimed at driving the transformation of a more sustainable, digital, resilient and globally competitive European economy.
In line with this Strategy, one of the Commission’s priorities is to identify and develop “transition pathways” for energy-intensive, hard-to-abate sectors, such as chemicals. In internal staff working documents, the EU Executive refers to “different mature technical options to move to net-zero emissions” in these sectors, such as the direct use of renewable energy sources and clean hydrogen, sustainable biomass and bioenergy as renewable feedstock, carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS), and increased circularity “to retain material value and reduce the need for primary raw materials extraction”. It also underlines that greening such sectors “require a fundamental rethinking of traditional production processes, the development of new business models (…) and the creation of whole new value chains”. Project Air’s ambition is to lead the way for other energy-intensive industries to decarbonise in a cost-effective way.
Beside the New EU Industrial Strategy, Project Air also resonates with the EU Circular Economy Strategy and Action Plan, due to the innovative process that it uses to produce renewable hydrogen (re-using waste water, in a resource-efficient way), and with the ‘Fit for 55’ package. It will help reach the sectoral target proposed by the Commission as part of the review of the Renewable Energy Directive (RED II): an indicative minimum annual increase of the share of renewables of 1.1% until 2030, and a minimum 50% renewable share in hydrogen consumption in the industry.
Russia’s war on Ukraine sadly highlights another inconvenient truth: the EU must reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. This is the spirit of the ‘REPowerEU’ Plan put forward by the European Commission in May. Project Air will directly contribute to this very ambitious and necessary objective – both from a climate perspective, and from a strategic sovereignty and energy independence standpoint.
The way to success
For Project Air to deliver on its objectives it will be critical to get the EU regulatory framework right, not the least on some Fit for 55 proposals that are currently going through the legislative process.
For example, Project Air’s success strongly relies on an abundant supply of biogas. Therefore, it is critical to ensure that the future Renewable Energy Directive (RED III) does not introduce unnecessary barriers to biogas production.
The project also depends on the availability of sufficient amounts of renewables for the production of green hydrogen. For instance, its consortium partners have expressed concerns over possible regulatory barriers that could limit such supply, in the current discussions around the “additionality principle” for fuels, such as green hydrogen, produced with renewable electricity.
Furthermore, Project Air’s competitiveness and EU-wide scalability is directly dependent on a high carbon price (i.e. on the revamped EU Emissions Trading System), combined with proper protection against unfair competition from unsustainable chemical products.
The future Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) will be instrumental in that sense. It should level up the playing field, ensuring that exporters of fossil-based chemical products do not free-ride and rather pay the right price for their negative externalities, while rewarding pioneering companies that lead the way towards carbon neutrality.
Last but not least, funding support will help get the project off the ground and scale up faster. Project Air has been granted funding from the Swedish Energy Agency and is currently applying for support under the EU’s Innovation Fund, in order to achieve larger scale implementation.
Come and find out more about Project Air at the lunch time briefing on 12 July (12h-14h) at Résidence Palace, Brussels.
REGISTER HERE. Places strictly limited and filling up fast.