Steam is the most important energy source for chemical production and is needed in huge quantities. We use it to dry our products or to heat reactors. When steam is generated from fossil fuels, CO2 is produced. In future, we want to generate steam electrically and avoid these emissions. How this can be achieved?
In order to produce steam CO2-free in the future, BASF relies on electricity-based technologies such as e-Boilers and heat pumps. Additionally, e-Drives can reduce our demand for steam and allow us to replace steam directly with power.
Each of BASF's five largest production sites generates more than enough waste heat to meet its own demand for steam. So far, most of this waste heat remains unused. The task is to convert this waste heat into usable energy and use it to generate steam, for example. The key to this: industrial heat pumps.
How CO2-free steam generation through energy recovery works
Heat pumps transfer energy from a low temperature source to a high temperature. This works with a coolant that evaporates in a circuit under low pressure by adding heat - from the plant or used cooling water. The gas is then compressed by a compressor. It condenses and gives off useful heat. Then the cycle starts all over again.
If heat pumps and compressors are operated with electricity from renewable sources, the entire process is climate-neutral. By using waste heat from chemical plants and cooling water systems to generate much of the steam BASF uses in production, heat pumps will drastically reduce the need for fossil fuels.
Currently, 50 % of our steam needs are met by gas and steam power plants, which produce greenhouse gas emissions. If we manage to generate steam without fossil fuels through new technologies, we can avoid an enormous amount of CO2. Together with partners, we have started various technical feasibility studies. Promising technologies such as heat pumps, e-Boilers and e-Drives already exist today and can be used on an industrial scale. In this way, we are taking big steps towards our goal of reducing CO2 emissions by 25 percent by 2030.
Our chemical plants generate a lot of waste heat, which we can use for heat pumps. Heat pump technology compares favourably with other available technologies, such as e-Boilers, because heat pumps can produce more steam with the same amount of electricity - so they are particularly efficient. But each of our sites has different conditions, there is no "one size fits all" solution and we are taking a multi-pronged approach to reduce our emissions to net zero by 2050.
Industrial heat pumps are not only many times larger than those for households, they are also much hotter and produce steam at a temperature of more than 120 °C. There are two types of heat pumps that BASF can use. One can handle high-temperature waste heat at 60 °C or more, while the other uses heat from used cooling water at 30 °C or less. BASF needs both options to be able to offer tailor-made technology for the different needs of the plants.