Florida Chemical Plant Rejects Promise to Reduce Powerful Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The efforts of the country’s largest nitrous oxide emitter to contain strong greenhouse gas emissions are lagging behind schedule, allowing emissions that are relatively easy to eliminate to continue to contribute to climate change.

Chemical company Ascend Performance Materials produces adipic acid, a key ingredient in the production of nylon 6.6 and polyurethane, synthetic materials used in everything from carpets to automotive parts and sneakers. The production process also produces as a by-product a huge amount of nitrous oxide, climate superpollutant.

Ascend released 27,528 tons of nitrous oxide from its tartaric acid plant near Pensacola, Florida, in 2020, the last year for which data is available. figures the company told the EPA. These emissions were equal to the annual greenhouse gas emissions of 1.6 million vehicles. This is more than five times higher than nitrous oxide emissions than any other plant in the US.

In terms of tons per tonne, nitrous oxide is almost 300 times more harmful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, a major factor in climate change. Nitrous oxide is also present the most significant ozone-depleting substance released into the atmosphere after the international ban on more harmful ozone-depleting substances. However, gas, which is commonly used as an anesthetic by dentists, is generally not considered harmful to human health in low concentrations and is not regulated by the Clean Air Act.

EPA data show that nitrous oxide emissions from the Ascend plant in Pensacola, a large chemical facility near the Escambia River, rank it among the 25 largest greenhouse gas emissions in the country along with coal-fired power plants and refineries. However, unlike carbon emissions at other facilities, nitrous oxide pollution is easily reduced by combustion or chemical decomposition. Other adipic acid plants in North America, Europe, and Asia have used low-cost incinerators and chemical reactors since the 1990s to destroy 95 percent or more of nitrous oxide.

Ascend destroyed or otherwise reduced only 70 percent of nitrous oxide emissions in 2020, and the scale of the plant itself – the world’s largest adipic acid facility – means that these remaining emissions have a huge impact.

Company officials told Inside Climate News in early 2020, they will voluntarily reduce residual nitrous oxide emissions by 50 percent by mid-2020 and should achieve emissions reductions of “significantly more than 95 percent” by February 2022. But instead of reducing nitrous oxide emissions from the Ascend plant in Pensacola increased by 50 percent in 2020, EPA data show. Air permits filed with state regulators in Florida do not indicate that the company is moving forward with a more ambitious reduction in powerful greenhouse gases.

“If you look under the hood, we have a lot of questions about whether these steps are really being taken,” said Jesse Waxman, strategist at Climate Strategies Lab, a newly formed environmental organization focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in heavy industry. , Ascend’s efforts to reduce emissions. “We know that the technology is there, and it can definitely be reduced by more than 95 percent. There is no ascent. So when we look at the chemical industry, when we look at the big manufacturers in the United States, Ascend definitely stands out as a sore finger. ”

Company officials said the company is moving forward to reduce emissions.

“We have completed the first phase of our investment to reduce N2O by 50 percent [of remaining emissions] and we are currently working on the second phase of the project to create a reduction of more than 90 percent [of total emissions]”- said in a written statement Chris Johnson, Director of Sustainability Ascend. “We expect this phase to be completed by the end of this year.”

Ascend has been working to develop its own nitrous oxide processing technology since 2015. The destruction of N2O by Ascend is voluntary, but the rate of reduction of nitrous oxide has declined significantly in recent years from a maximum of 91 percent of total emissions in 2015. to only 70 percent in 2020, according to the EPA.

Johnson did not specify when the 50 percent reduction in emissions was completed, however Fr. sustainability report Published last year, Ascend says the first phase of a new project to reduce nitrous oxide emissions was implemented in late 2020. Johnson did not say why efforts to reduce emissions were delayed, but the global pandemic and related supply chain problems may have played a role.

The company sold carbon offsets to reduce nitrous oxide emissions in 2021 through the Climate Action Reserve, a non-profit organization that promotes carbon trading. Reserve shows that Ascend has sold emission reduction credits equal almost 1.3 million metric tons carbon dioxide in the first half of 2021

If the company continues to sell compensation at the same rate in the second half of 2021, carbon compensation will be equal to a 35 percent reduction in nitrous oxide emissions based on the company’s emissions in 2020, a significant improvement but still shy away from targeting a 50 percent reduction. .

The only other adipic acid plant in the country is a plant in Victoria, Texas, owned by chemical manufacturer Invista. Invista reduces approximately 97 percent of nitrous oxide emissions and, unlike Ascend, it is not eligible to sell carbon offsets for existing emission reductions. Invista’s predecessor, DuPont, voluntarily added pollution control to the plant in 1997. State regulators now require Invista to reduce about 95 percent of the nitrous oxide it produces.

How quickly and to what extent Ascend reduces nitrous oxide emissions could affect its financial outlook because SK Capital, the owner of Ascend, is reportedly considering selling the company. This was reported by Bloomberg in December, that SK Capital, a private investment company, was considering an initial public offering of the company’s shares. However, Barry Siadat, co-founder of SK Capital and chairman of Ascend Performance Materials, said the article, citing unnamed sources, was “baseless rumors”.

If SK Capital embarks on an IPO, Ascend’s grand emissions could force investors to suspend.

“If I looked at this company and track record not only in goal setting but also in managing total greenhouse gas emissions, I think they were late in the game,” said Lauren Kamper, managing director of Boston Common Asset Management, an investment firm. focusing on environmental issues, said, referring to greenhouse gas emissions.

“Their reputation is bad compared to their counterparts in using existing low-cost abatement technologies,” she said. “I think it calls into question the company’s overall sustainability management and understanding of what expectations there are of both investors and customers.”

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In the 1990s, the cost of nitrogen reduction technology averaged about $ 10 million per plant, according to peer-reviewed study published in 2000. Taking into account inflation, the price will be about twice as high today. Ascend’s new approach to chemical processing will add additional costs, although the costs are likely to be relatively modest for a company valued at $ 5 billion by Bloomberg.

“Basically, it’s a relatively small operating expense,” Waxman said.

Meanwhile, Invista is collaborating with China Pingmei Shenma Group, one of the largest manufacturers of Rapid Acid in China, to voluntarily eradicate Shenma nitrous oxide emissions.

Invista will transfer Shenma’s license for its nitrous oxide reduction technology under a broader agreement under which Shenma will provide Invista with adipic acid to produce 6.6 nylon. The agreement could reduce nitrous oxide emissions to 14 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent a year, Jan. 18 reported. press release from Invista. This is equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions of 3 million cars a year.

However, questions about the agreement remain. Invista previously installed pollution control measures at Shenma’s adipic acid production facilities in the early 2000s as part of a United Nations program that provided incentives for Shenma and other Chinese manufacturers to reduce nitrous oxide emissions. It is unclear whether the agreement with Invista provides for new or expanded pollution control measures or simply provides chemical catalysts needed to operate existing equipment.

Earlier, Shenma told Inside Climate News that it continued to reduce emissions after the 2012 funding of the UN program ended. However, company officials declined to say what percentage of their emissions were destroyed or seized for reuse. Shenma did not respond to a request for additional information. Invista declined to comment.

Waxman said she was “cautiously optimistic” that the agreement is a sign that Chinese manufacturers are beginning to move to tighter pollution control. China produces nearly half of the world’s adipic acid and many of the country’s 11 manufacturing plants may not subside the vast majority of them are nitrous oxide.

What drives Shenma and Invista, a subsidiary of Koch Industries, may be less related to environmental issues and more related to financial sustainability, as brands using nylon 6.6 and polyurethane begin to look for further supply chains when assessing their impact products on climate, she said.

“Moving away from suppliers that have huge greenhouse gas emissions compared to their counterparts is a very simple step,” Waxman said.

She added: “They really need to step up their game in the field of sustainability, and the easiest way they can do that right now, and have a big impact on reducing emissions, is to use this nitrous oxide reduction technology.” Florida Chemical Plant Rejects Promise to Reduce Powerful Greenhouse Gas Emissions

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