Full Title: Technological Pathways for Decarbonizing Petroleum Refining
Author(s): Zachary Byrum, Hélène Pilorgé, Jennifer Wilcox
Publisher(s): World Resources Institute (WRI)
Publication Date: October 21, 2021
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Petroleum refining is among the largest industrial greenhouse gas emission sources in the U.S., producing approximately 13% of U.S. industrial emissions and approximately 3% of all U.S. emissions. While the U.S. must rapidly reduce its reliance on fossil fuels, some demand will remain for petroleum refinery products in the coming decades, and so it is critical that refineries deeply decarbonize. For the U.S. to meet its climate target of net-zero emissions economy-wide by 2050, petroleum use must dramatically decline and refineries must transform to reduce their substantial emissions.
This analysis finds that using current and novel technologies – like fuel switching to clean hydrogen; electrification; and carbon capture, utilization and storage – can deeply decarbonize refineries, delivering climate benefits and improving local air quality as the U.S. transitions away from fossil fuels in the coming decades. It shows how, in the long-term, refineries could shift to processing renewable feedstocks to produce low-carbon fuels for aviation, shipping and trucking – our toughest to abate transportation sectors – ultimately reducing fuel carbon intensities by up to 80%. By leveraging technologies and adapting to low-carbon demands, refineries could provide lower-carbon products for our economy while helping meet U.S. climate goals.
The paper provides policymakers and stakeholders with an overview of refinery emissions today and the possibilities for and barriers to mitigating them. To deeply decarbonize refineries, the paper calls for ambitious expansion of existing and novel technologies, supported by further independent research and supportive policies.