Canada’s chemical sector should be well poised to wean the country’s economy off carbon, according to the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada (CIAC). That goal makes up much of the mandate of the Generation Energy Council, a body created by Natural Resources Canada late last year to address this challenge. In anticipation of a Council report that will guide government policy, the CIAC recently published its own report on the matter, entitled Chemistry: Essential to Canada’s Transition to a Low-Carbon Energy Future.

“The Minister challenged us to write a chapter on the value-add of chemistry for his energy strategy,” recalls CIAC executive vice-president Isabelle Des Chênes, who points to the investments that have provided the country with an unrivalled green energy base, including hydroelectricity, natural gas, and biomass. “The idea is that we can continue to leverage those investments, thinking about Canada as a production hub for some of the greenest and lowest GHG-intensive products in the world.”

Fundamental changes in manufacturing inputs can have a major effect on carbon outputs. Photo credit: CIAC

The 32-page report points out that almost all manufactured goods depend on chemistry in one form or another, a field worth some $5 trillion globally, where Canadian firms have been among the global leaders in terms of sustainable production. Chemistry also represents the fourth-largest manufacturing sector in Canada, maintaining more than 600,000 jobs directly or indirectly. With ready access to abundant low-carbon feedstocks, companies operating in this sector have achieved progress toward cleaner, greener operations, such as converting ethylene facilities from naphtha to ethane or generating methanol from natural gas rather than coal. These fundamental innovations then lower the carbon footprint of more familiar products used in transportation, building infrastructure, power generation, and agriculture.

Energy efficiency can create efficiencies across the entire Canadian economy. Credit: CIAC

Energy efficiency can create efficiencies across the entire Canadian economy. Photo credit: CIAC

The report also includes examples of what these innovations look like when fully implemented in commercial settings. At the multinational chemical manufacturer ERCO’s plant in west Quebec near Ottawa, hydrogen produced during pulp processing is no longer simply vented but captured and used in the plant boiler. The change has reduced the facilities fossil fuel use by more than 90 percent, with a parallel decrease in CO2 emissions.

Des Chênes notes that these sorts of fundamental industrial changes seldom gain the public profile of developments in the automotive or high-tech sectors, but their impact on carbon emissions can be even more substantial.

“It’s a very holistic system,” she says. “We can’t just make one change without having impacts elsewhere.”

Above all, states CIAC President and CEO Bob Masterson, Canada’s efforts could draw in as much as $25 billion worth of new investments over the next decade. In a release accompanying the report, he argues that industries around the world are reviewing their options for efficient energy use that will thrive in regulatory settings aimed at minimizing the output of carbon.

“If Canada misses out on investment opportunities due to the competitive nature of the industry,” he warns, “production will shift to countries with more carbon-intensive chemical operations.”

A new report from CIAC points the way to a low-carbon economy for Canada Credit: CIAC

A new report from CIAC points the way to a low-carbon economy for Canada. Photo credit: CIAC